Niklas Kronwall had so much trouble getting his pro career off the ground, it might not have turned out like it did without the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Kronwall, who retired Tuesday after 15 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, used Grand Rapids in his early years as a place to recover from a couple of serious injuries as well as bide his time and pick up some valuable experience.
The defenseman was drafted by the Red Wings in the first round (29th overall) in 2000 draft but continued to play in Sweden for Djurgardens IF. It wasn’t until 2003-04 that Kronwall made his North American debut as a member of the Griffins. He quickly impressed with 13 points (2-11-13) in 25 games, prompting a call from Detroit.
It was short-lived stay of 20 games.
Skating in a pregame warmup with the Red Wings in January 2004, Kronwall broke his leg. Even though he couldn’t play, Kronwall was selected to the 2004 AHL all-star game.
With Kronwall on the mend, the Red Wings targeted him as a top three blueline in 2004-05. But that also deteriorated as a labor dispute and lockout led to the 2004-05 NHL season being cancelled.
Instead, he returned to the Griffins.
“I’ve just tried to come back as strong as I could,” Kronwall told the Grand Rapids Press in December 2004. ” It was good for me to have the whole summer to prepare for this season … My leg felt great right from the time I went back onto the ice. It’s been no problem whatsoever.”
It was the first good break for Kronwall. He played the entire season in Grand Rapids and thrived. He appeared in 76 games, had 53 points (13-40-53) and was named the top defenseman in the AHL. His point total and assists were team records.
Once again, Kronwall was targeted for the Red Wings for the 2005-06 season.
But a second injured occurred, this time an injured knee that happened during an exhibition game with the Red Wings in September 2005. He missed a big chunk of the season.
At the time, Red Wings teammate Chris Chelios stayed positive.
“I’ve been through the same thing,” the defenseman said in a story from September 2005. “You do come back and you can heal strong and be the same player. He’s in great shape and a hard worker, so there’s no doubt he can come back and be the same player.”
On Feb. 2, 2006, he played for the Red Wings for the first time in just over two years. On his first shift, he leveled St. Louis forward Jay McClement with a hard shoulder check in what would become known as “getting Kronwalled.”
The following week, Kronwall joined the Griffins one last time for conditioning on Feb. 11, 2006, a home game against Peoria. He had a shot and finish minus-1 rating.
It wasn’t the end to the injury bug, but it was the last time he appeared in Grand Rapids.