When Jonathan Ericsson arrived on the scene in Detroit during their run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2009, he showed up as a 6’4″ 220 pound revelation. He jumped into the starting lineup scoring four goals and four assists in the playoffs from the blue line and nearly helping lead the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup against Pittsburgh.
Since then, Ericsson’s last two seasons have seen him kind of find his way through action and not using his size nor his skills to their optimum levels. Two seasons ago, Ericsson dealt with injuries and played in 62 games and put up a stunningly low plus/minus for a Red Wings player at -15. Last season in particular was a rough one for Ericsson as his play had him permanently fixed on the third pairing and sometimes getting swapped out of the lineup as a healthy scratch.
Heading into this season with Brian Rafalski suddenly retiring, Ericsson has the chance to seize the day and become the blue line force many thought he would be. After signing a big free agent deal this summer to stay in Detroit (three years, $9.75 million), the pressure is on for Ericsson and Chuck Pleiness of the Macomb Daily Newspaper finds that Ericsson knows it’s time to show that he’s worth the faith the Wings have put into him.
“It’s up to myself now,” Ericsson said. “They’re going to have higher expectations of me. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a little more pressure but that’s always good. That always helps players, most of the players, anyway. You always want to put more pressure on yourself. It’s going to be fun, too.”
While the Wings’ top three defensemen are easy to pick out in Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, and Brad Stuart landing the job as the #4 guy is between Ericsson, Ian White, Mike Commodore. For Ericsson, the opportunity to capitalize on the situation is right there for the taking. While Ericsson had his struggles at times the last two years, perhaps that shot of faith (and big bucks) is what he needed to get faith in his own game. The Wings are banking on it happening or else.
With Lidstrom eventually hanging it up sooner than later, the Wings will need someone to step up and become that big game kind of player on defense. Replacing a guy like Lidstrom is impossible, but if Ericsson and Kronwall can reach the heights they’ve shown they’re capable of with their play, replacing that production by committee would be a bonus for Detroit. There are high hopes for youngsters Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith to also someday join that defensive corps, but they haven’t had much opportunity in the NHL to show what they can do. Smith is just two years removed from the University of Wisconsin and has yet to play in the NHL.
For Ericsson, there’s no time like the present to make his presence felt. The Wings have ponied up the cash to keep him in town, now he has to show that he’s worth the dedication and hype, otherwise they’ll be paying $3.25 million a year to a third-pair defenseman for the next three years. Those kinds of mistakes in the salary cap world can’t happen, but as Ericsson says, it’s up to him to make it work now.