According to MLive.com’s Peter Wallner, both players are expected to be available this weekend, as the Griffins host the Rockford Ice Hogs on Friday and travel to Rockford on Saturday and Milwaukee to face the Admirals on Sunday.
I would expect both players to play at least one game, especially considering the Griffins assigned Matt Caito to the Toledo Walleye on Wednesday, presumably to make room for Hronek and Smith. So, what can we expect from the two prospects?
— Saginaw Spirit (@SpiritHockey) March 22, 2017
Of the two, Hronek, 19, is the prospect I’m most looking forward to seeing. Selected 53rd overall in 2016, Hronek, 6 feet tall and 163 pounds, played in 59 games this season with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. He tied for fourth among all OHL defensemen in points with 61 (14 goals, 47 assists), and he was named Saginaw’s Most Valuable Player.
According to Dobber Prospects, Hronek is an excellent skater who isn’t afraid to jump into the rush to generate offense. Joseph Highgate writes:
The smooth-skating defenseman has continued his impressive first season in North America with a strong performance at the world junior championship. … Effectively leading the breakout after a crisp first pass, he’s not afraid to consistently jump into the rush and take chances in the offensive zone. Blessed with tremendous hockey sense, he’s able to calmly think through the game at a high pace and move the puck out of danger. Hronek is solid and mobile in his own end as well, identifying his defensive responsibility early and never leaving an open scoring threat unchecked near his net.
It’s a glowing review of Hronek, especially considering he just made the transition to North American hockey this season. The physical style of play in North America can be difficult for European prospects adjust to initially, but Hronek seems to have no problems.
Considering Hronek played for a Saginaw team that went 27-32-7-2 and failed to make the playoffs, his stats are even more impressive. According to Prospect Stats, Hronek ranked as a top-pair defensemen in goals per game (0.24), primary (0.38) and secondary assists (0.38) per game, points per game (1.0), primary points per game (0.62), shots per game (3.93) and estimated time on ice per game (24 minutes).
The Red Wings are in desperate need of help on the blue line, as evidenced by their 25th ranking in goals allowed per game (3.0) and their 48.01 five-on-five adjusted shots attempted percentage, which is 23rd in the NHL according to Corsica.
Detroit has three defensemen (Niklas Kronwall, Danny DeKeyser and Jonathan Ericsson) under contract until at least 2019-20, with DeKeyser’s contract ending after the 2021-22 season. Hronek could be a piece the Red Wings build around in the future.
Smith, 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, played in 64 games for the Guelph Storm, scoring 26 goals and adding 18 assists. The 19-year-old, who was selected 46th overall in the 2016 draft, was second on his team in goals, power-play goals (seven) and tied for third with 44 points.
According to Dobber Prospects, Smith is a bruising, hard-working power forward that managed to find offensive success on a struggling Guelph team. Highgate writes:
A true power forward in every sense of the word, Smith has continuously impressed on a pitiful Guelph Storm squad throughout his OHL career. A large, powerful winger who has really honed his skills as a physical force since being selected by the Red Wings in last year’s NHL draft. … The main reason for his offensive success this season lies in his immense puck protection skills, using his big frame to guard against pressure on the rush, as well as in the dirty areas in corners and along the boards. While he’s not at a severe disadvantage compared to other prospects, he lacks elite-level skating and hands which could make him a truly dominant force in the OHL.
So, Smith isn’t exactly the elite goal-scoring power forward that Brendan Shanahan was, but he’s a big body with an abrasive personality that has the ability to contribute on the scoresheet regularly, something the Red Wings haven’t had in many years.
Just like Hronek, Smith played on a not-so-great Guelph team that went 21-40-5-2 and was the second-worst team in the OHL, allowing a league-worst 297 goals. According to Prospect Stats, Smith ranked as a first-line winger in goals per game (0.42) and shots per game (3.35), a second-line winger in points per game (0.69), primary assists per game (0.19), primary points per game (0.61) and estimated time on ice (17 minutes) and a third-line winger in secondary assists per game (0.08).
Smith won’t be an elite-level winger in the NHL, especially considering his lack of skating skills, but he could fit in as a third-line winger — perfect in a checking/shutdown role, but a player who can also contribute offensively.
While it’s always nice to see prospects get minutes at the professional level, expectations should be tempered accordingly. This will be the first time Smith has faced professional players (Hronek previously played in a Czech professional league last season), and it will take time for him to adjust.
Even for Hronek, the AHL will be vastly different from what he saw playing in the professional Czech league. Both players want to make a good first impression not only for Griffins coach Todd Nelson, but also for Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.
Odds of either player making the Red Wings next year out of training camp are slim, but a good showing for the rest of the AHL season could move them up the depth chart.
Tom Mitsos is a writer from Michigan who covers the Red Wings and the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, for The Hockey Writers.