His quiet, unassuming personality is indicative of his modest Swedish roots. But his silence away from the rink wildly contradicts the noise that this NHL star brings to the Detroit Red Wings’ lineup.
The second of three sons, Niklas Kronwall was born on January 12, 1981 to parents Hans and Tove Kronwall in Stockholm, Sweden. His younger brother, Staffan, is also an NHL defenseman, having played in Toronto, Washington and Calgary.
Niklas Kronwall has gained a reputation – particularly among NHL forwards – for his perfectly timed, bone-rattling, clean hits. Players are taught not to skate with their head down, however Niklas has done his best to remind some forwards why they should have listened to their coaches.
Opposing NHL forwards like Mike Ribeiro, Martin Havlat and Ryan Malone are just a few players who have felt their teeth chatter after absorbing freight train-like hits by Niklas, who is one of only 22 players in the exclusive Triple Gold Club – a very select fraternity whose members have won a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and World Championship.
Niklas grew-up in Viksjo, a small middle-class suburban district about 20 kilometers outside of Stockholm. Life was simple and a lot of fun for Niklas, who from the time that he was a young boy always kept busy playing sports – hockey, soccer, tennis and ping-pong – with his brothers and friends.
He first recollection of playing hockey was when he turned six-years-old. Before then, he had skated a few years during the winter months and primarily played soccer in the summer.
In the summer when he and his girlfriend go back to Sweden, Niklas likes to be around the water as much as possible, he enjoys spending time in the Archipelago outside of Stockholm. Another passion is golf, a hobby that he shares with his brothers, Mattias, Staffan and half brother Anders.
Once he turned 14, he gave up playing soccer to concentrate on sharpening his hockey skills. But it was only a year earlier that Niklas nearly quit hockey to perfect his skills on the soccer pitch.
Things happen for a reason.
As of the 2009–10 season, Niklas was one of three alumni players from the Jarfalla youth hockey club to reach the NHL. The others are Niklas’s younger brother, Staffan, and goalie Mikael Tellqvist.
By the time he was 16-years-old, Niklas Kronwall had joined Djurgårdens in the J20 SuperElit League, and played parts of two seasons, 1996–97 and 1997–98. He was also invited to represent Sweden in the Under-18 European Junior Championship, joining such future NHL stars Henrik Zetterberg, and twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
The following season, Niklas played for Huddinge in Division 1, and scored a goal and an assist in 25 games. That same year, Niklas finished second among Team Sweden defensemen in scoring (0-4-4) at the Under-18 World Junior Championship.
Prior to the 1999–2000 season, Niklas had returned to Djurgardens, and it was determined that his ability and skill was good enough for him to graduate to Sweden’s high-level of hockey called Elitserien, or the Swedish Elite League, which it is most commonly called in English.
For the third straight year, he played for Sweden in an international tournament. In the 2000 World Junior Championship, he finished as the tourney’s third highest-scoring defensemen with five goals and an assist in seven games.
As a care-free teenage spirit, Niklas never really gave much thought to making a career out of hockey. His main concern was to work hard – a trait instilled in him by his parents – and to have fun at a game, which he’s always enjoyed playing.
But like young Swedish school children, Niklas had decided on an academic discipline to studying. While hockey had become his after-school passion, his school day focus was Economics.
Like their North American counterparts, Swedish teens often earn income at summer jobs. Niklas was no different, having spent one summer working at an automotive parts warehouse, where he filled and shipped orders.
By June 2000, Niklas was invited to Calgary for the NHL’s annual entry draft. Accompanied to Canada by his mom and younger brother, Niklas called the draft experience, “awesome”.
Afterwards, Niklas returned to Sweden and Djurgardens where he continued to work on his game for the next three seasons. During the summer months, he worked in Stockholm with a personal trainer – assigned to him by the Red Wings – to add much-needed weight while building strength.
Niklas had to overcome critics, who claimed that he wasn’t big enough to make the jump from the SEL to the NHL. But he eventually crossed the pond and split his first North American season (2003–04) between the Red Wing and the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The NHL owners’ lockout cancelled the 2004–05 season, but in hindsight, Niklas gained valuable time with the Wings’ minor league team in Grand Rapids. With the Griffins, Niklas scored 13 goals with 40 assists in 76 games, which remains his single-season high. He received the AHL’s Eddie Shore Award, presented annually to the league’s top offensive defenseman.
Niklas was ready to join the parent club. But some hard-luck forced him to miss significant time in his first three seasons in Detroit. Injuries aside, Niklas had his best offensive productions during the 2008–09 season as the Red Wings attempted to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. That season, Nikas enjoyed career-highs for assists (45), points (51), and games-played (80).
Still, Niklas managed to win three major titles in the span of three seasons, winning a Olympic gold and a World Championship with Sweden in 2006, and the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2008 and became a member of the Triple Gold Club, exclusive for only 22 players.
Niklas is an impact player, whose projected potential is still on the rise. He’s a terrific skater, makes precision breakout passes, has a good, solid shot, and despite his under-sized physique, he has gained a healthy reputation as a feared open-ice hitter.
But for a player so feared, Niklas isn’t much of an attention-seeker – personally or professionallys. Other than his breath-taking hits, Niklas has never been one to draw attention to himself. And that’s certainly his style in the Red Wings’ locker room, and that conveniently works to his advantage, especially since he works in the shadows of fellow Swede and six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom. Personally, as long as Niklas has his family and close friends around him, then life is good.