A lot has been expected of Red Wings defenseman Jakub Kindl since being drafted 19th overall in 2005. That comes with the territory when you’re Detroit’s highest pick since Martin Lapointe way back in 1991 (Kindl was just four years old at the time).
The “Dead Wings”, as the club was known during a down period in the 1970’s and 80’s, were accustomed to picking high in the draft for a number of years. In fact, Detroit had a top-10 selection 13 times from 1971-1991.
While Steve Yzerman in 1983 was undoubtedly the team’s best pick during that period, only a few others had any professional success. The Red Wings were a relatively poor drafting squad that developed very little talent.
All of that changed when former general manager Jim Devellano resurrected the once-proud franchise. Detroit has become a model organization in not only the NHL, but all of professional sports. Not only does the team win, but it develops some of the League’s biggest superstars while continuously garnering low draft positions. When a franchise finds gems like Pavel Datsyuk in the sixth round and Henrik Zetterberg in the seventh, someone on the scouting staff is doing something right.
But Kindl broke the mold as a mid-first rounder. No one expects a sixth-round pick to turn into Datsyuk, but if you’re the 19th selection, expectations are naturally higher.
As a member of the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League, Kindl was dynamic. With his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, Kindl showed why he was worthy of a first-round draft choice. He finished sixth in the OHL in defense scoring in 2005-06 with 58 points in 60 games.
Kindl almost made Detroit’s club in 2006-07, but he was sent back to Kitchener in the last round of cuts. Although he didn’t see NHL action outside of the preseason, the Red Wings still liked what they saw from the young blueliner.
Kindl had a terrific season with Kitchener while finishing eighth in defense scoring in the OHL with 55 points in just 54 games. But upon turning professional and joining the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2007-08, Kindl began to struggle. He finished the year with just 17 points in 75 games. Kindl was also a dreadful minus-34.
This was not what the youngster had in mind. He had a slightly better 2008-09 season with 33 points in 78 games and a minus-14 rating.
Finally, Kindl saw some action with Detroit in 2009-10. In three games with the big club, he collected zero points and was a minus-2. He looked uncomfortable and wasn’t showing the jump and aggressiveness that made him successful at the junior level.
Kindl was over-thinking and not simply reacting to plays. He returned to Grand Rapids and tallied 33 points in 73 games.
Despite his struggles, Detroit was not willing to give up on its talented rear guard. His minor-league options ran out, and the team signed Kindl to a three-year, $2.65 million extension in July. He was to become the club’s seventh defenseman for this season.
Kindl didn’t play much to start the year while appearing in just 11 games in October and November. He had no points and was a minus-3, and his ice time eclipsed the 15-minute mark just twice.
Kindl was sent to Grand Rapids on a conditioning stint for eight games in December. He hadn’t played since Nov. 6 and needed the live action outside of practice. Upon returning to Detroit, Kindl appeared in two contests in December and improved his rating to minus-1.
But just like last year, Detroit had a string of injuries that opened up the opportunity to play on a nightly basis. When Brad Stuart went down with a broken jaw Jan. 7 against Calgary, it became Kindl’s job to lose.
Since his insertion into the lineup Jan. 8, Kindl has notched a plus-1 rating along with netting his first NHL goal. As he and the coaches gain more confidence in his ability, his ice time has increased to nearly 14 minutes per game during the stretch. Paired with veteran Ruslan Salei, Kindl has been steady while learning to make the simple plays and not over-think.
When Stuart returns in late February or early March, Kindl will likely become the team’s seventh defenseman again. But if he keeps improving, it will be difficult for coach Mike Babcock to keep him out of the lineup.