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World Junior Championship 2017 preview: Czech Republic

A lot has changed in the last year for Filip Hronek, but his high-level play has always been unwavering.
Filip Hronek

Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images

Czech Republic | Group A | Roster | THN's odds for gold: 25-1

It’s all new for Filip Hronek this season.

New country. New game. New language.

That’s a lot to throw at one fellow, but this 19-year-old defenseman is used to carrying a heavy load. He prefers it that way.

“He’s a quick learner,” said Detroit Red Wings player evaluation coach and fellow Czech Jiri Fischer. “He doesn’t like to fail. He wants to succeed. He wants to do better. He wants to learn from it.”

Fischer noticed those traits in Hronek immediately while working with him at Detroit’s summer development camp. During early drills, Hronek kept bumping the boards, unaccustomed to the smaller North American ice surface. By the second set of drills, Hronek had adjusted his sights, and that was no longer an issue.

Learning is a daily process for all teenage hockey players, but for Hronek, who plays for OHL Saginaw, there are plenty of extra study sessions on his agenda. “Here it’s a physical game,” Hronek said. “It’s a small rink and it’s very fast. In Czech, it’s a little slower.”

Moving to North America, Hronek was thrust into a personal cultural revolution. It has required him to learn to play the game on the smaller rink while also adapting to changes in diet and necessitating he take a crash course in deciphering the English language. Although he’s still uncomfortable speaking the language, Hronek now grasps it. He required a translator during the summer months, but that’s no longer necessary.

On the ice, the process is also evolving quickly. He’s averaging almost a point-per-game for the Spirit this season. “He has a real ability to move the puck, and he seems to be able to handle a forecheck,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “I think that’s the hardest thing in today’s game, to handle how hard everyone is forechecking, so you have to be able to manage that puck, and he does a good job of it.

“He’s got a little edge to him for his size.”

That’s the real issue with Hronek. Most scouts felt he possessed a first-round skill set but at six-foot and 163 pounds, he wasn’t equipped with a first-round physical package. The Red Wings grabbed him in the second round (53rd overall) in 2016. “To get himself to the NHL, he’s going to have to be dynamic offensively,” Blashill said.

Like with Finnish defenseman Vili Saarijarvi, another undersized defender with high-end skills, a year ago, the Wings moved quickly to get Hronek’s name on an entry-level deal in the summer and assimilate him into North American hockey and lifestyle. They want to fast-track Hronek and get him to the AHL by next season.

Saarijarvi enjoyed a stellar world juniors last year as the Finns won gold, and the hope is Hronek will have a similar experience. The Wings understand a solid performance against the world’s best in his peer group is another step in his maturation process. “I’d like him to play against as good of group of players as possible,” Blashill said, “just to see how he handles the challenge.”

Considering all Hronek has handled smoothly already, expect him to pass this litmus test as well.

Up next: Denmark


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