With every thundering hit and tape-to-tape pass, Niklas Kronwall is making his mark in the NHL. Still, playing alongside the likes of Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom, the 25-year-old defenseman is sometimes forgotten in the Motor City.
In this week's Facing Off, the man dubbed "Baby Lidstrom" discusses how he became the most unlikely of Olympic heroes, why everybody (including his own brother) had better keep his head up on the ice and why the Red Wings deserve to be considered Stanley Cup favorites.
Question from David Amber: In 1999, you decided to forgo your NHL draft year because scouts and GMs were worried about your lack of size as a defenseman. What did you think of that?
Answer from Niklas Kronwall: That's just part of the game, especially with the old rules, size was so important. My agents J.P. Barry and Claes Elefalk told me to hold off for a year and see where it would take me. It was the perfect thing to do; I was projected in 1999 to get picked in the seventh or eighth round, and I ended up being a first-round pick the next year.
Q: How small were you back in 1999?
A: I was around 6 feet tall, but I weighed less than 165 pounds. Now, I weigh 192 pounds, so I have put on the necessary weight. I work out with a personal trainer in Detroit; it has helped a lot.
Q: Even though you have been regarded as an "undersized defenseman," you have built a reputation as a great open-ice hitter. How do you physically approach taking on a guy who may be 30 pounds heavier than you?
A: I have never thought that hitting is about size. It's all about timing. Opposing players' size has never limited me on the ice. It doesn't bother me at all.
Q: Do your eyes light up when you see a guy about to get a pass, with his head down, and you've got him right where you want him?
A: [Laughs] To me, that's one of the best parts of the game. It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it's great. During the lockout last year, I was playing in the AHL and this guy on Cleveland had his head down. I caught him with my shoulder on his chin. He got flattened; that was probably my most memorable hit.
Q: Who is the best offensive player in the NHL right now?
A: I haven't played [Jaromir] Jagr myself, but he is putting up incredible numbers. Joe Thornton is also a top guy. He is huge, he's a really good skater and he can handle the puck as well as anybody. My teammate Henrik Zetterberg has also been awesome this year.
Q: You made your NHL debut in 2003. What was that first game like?
A: Everything happened pretty fast. We were playing Buffalo away. Chelios hurt his knee, and I got the call. I didn't even have time to think about what was going on. I was actually more nervous during the preseason games. I played all right overall; I made some mistakes, but the veteran guys like Nik Lidstrom were telling me not to think too much, just react to the game, and I felt pretty comfortable after the first few shifts.
Q: What is it like for you to play with Lidstrom, knowing you are compatriots and have similar styles on the ice?
A: It's really comfortable. In my opinion, he is the best defenseman in the league by far. He makes things look so ridiculously easy. He doesn't have to say a lot; he is just always in the right position. Off the ice, he is very professional, has a great work ethic, and that has taught me a ton.
Q: Some people have dubbed you "Baby Lidstrom." Do you like that nickname?
A: Some people like to call me that and that may be their opinion, but I'm not trying to copy his style of play, I just want to play the way I can. I just want to carve out my own identity.
Q: Just 20 games into your NHL career, you broke your leg in a freak accident during a pregame skate. What happened?
A: I just caught a rut. We were playing the Kings in Los Angeles, and the ice was choppy. I caught a rut and wrecked my ankle. It really was a freak accident. I don't think you can blame anything. I was pretty upset when it happened, but what can you do about it?
Q: Then, this season, you suffered a knee injury in training camp and missed the first three months of the season. Did you start to feel unlucky the second time around?
A: People ask me that question all the time. What can I say? I've had two major injuries in three years, but it is what it is. There's not much I can do about it. I try not to think about it, and hopefully the bad breaks are behind me.
Q: Originally, you weren't expected to play on the Swedish Olympic team because you were coming back from that knee injury. Take us through what happened to get you to Italy.
A: The whole thing was pretty crazy. At first, because of the injury, I had to turn down going to the Olympics, and I was really disappointed. Still, it was the right decision to make. So I was playing with the Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League, waiting for the NHL to resume play. Then, Mattias Ohlund got hurt during the Olympics and they called me about filling in. I got called in to play in the semifinals and gold medal game for Sweden. It was an unreal experience playing with all the guys in the world.
Q: Not only do you fill in, but you score a goal in the gold medal-winning game against your archrivals from Finland. Is there a story behind the goal?
A: [Laughs] Well, I wasn't even supposed to be on the ice. We had the power play and Christian Bachman was too tired to go out there for his shift. So they put me in his spot and it was a give-and-go play with Zetterberg and I got the puck and beat the goalie. It wasn't a big shot or anything, I just tried to put it on net and thankfully the goalie didn't see it.
Q: That's pretty amazing that you get thrown into that game and end up a hero. What was it like for you and the team when you went back to Sweden to celebrate the gold medal win?
A: It was the best part of the whole Olympic experience, going back to Sweden with the gold medal and celebrating with all of our country. I have seen these types of celebrations in Sweden before, but to stand there yourself was unbelievable. There were thousands of people there.
Q: So, it was like an ABBA concert?
A: [Laughs] Even better. It was really sick. To be out there on the stage getting cheered was a moment I won't forget. Hockey fans in Sweden are very loyal and passionate, and to bring them gold was amazing.
Q: What have you done with the gold medal?
A: I just have it here with me in Detroit. I hope to get a Stanley Cup ring to match.
Q: Everybody is looking at Detroit as the favorite to win the Cup. Is it good or bad to go into the playoffs as the favorite?
A: I don't know; I don't think it matters. It would be weird if people didn't look at us as the favorites because that's what the standings say. Do I think we deserve to be the favorites? I think we do because we have played really well, but at the same time, it's all about the playoffs; no one cares about who wins the Presidents' Trophy, they only care about the Stanley Cup and that's how it should be.
Q: Your younger brother Staffan is in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. He's listed at 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, but who is tougher?
A: It depends on how you rate toughness. He's bigger than me, stronger than me on the ice, so I think he would be the one dropping his gloves first.
Q: What happens if you see him coming down the ice with his head down?
A: Well [pause], I'm sure he would think like I think, if you have a chance to hit a guy, you do, it doesn't matter who it is. I would have to take him out.
David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.