Ericsson's no Mr. Irrelevant

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

DETROIT -- It's rare to see a kid taken as a flier with the last overall pick in the draft play a single game in the NHL.

It's even more odd to hear him referred to as one of the league's future elite.

But that seems to be how things go for Detroit Red Wings scouts overseas. They continually pluck gems.

Defenceman Jonathan Ericsson has been polishing his game ever since Hakan Andersson came to see him in the Swedish junior league in his draft year.

"I was a centre at the time. The day the scout was at the game, we had some defencemen that were sick, so I had to step back and be a defenceman that game. That was the game he was looking at me," Ericsson said.

Andersson liked what he saw, and told Ericsson's coach -- who happened to be his dad -- he saw potential in the big-bodied teen.

"He said he wanted to see more of me," Ericsson said. "I told my dad, 'I want to play defence from now on.' "

Sitting third among Wings defencemen and seventh on the team in scoring, joining the rush is still obviously on the 25-year-old's mind.

"Maybe that's why he does have that offensive knack," veteran winger Kirk Maltby said of the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder.

"He's kind of a little like Jay Bouwmeester. Maybe not quite as fluid a skater-- Jay, for a big guy, he's pretty smooth -- but he can lug that puck up the ice if he has to, or he can make that outlet pass.

"He's just getting better."

With Niklas Kronwall's sprained knee putting him out of the lineup until at least mid-January, the Wings will be depending even more on guys like Ericsson to post important minutes.

"He's got very small feet," Ericsson joked of Kronwall.

"But he's got very large shoes to fill. On the powerplay, he's sure going to be missed out there."

Spending more time on the man-advantage, Ericsson will be adding that to his resume along with his already important role on the penalty kill.

In a 3-0 loss to the Flames last night, Ericsson hauled more than 17 minutes of ice time. It's hard to believe his first NHL game was less than two years ago against the Flames in Calgary, or that he's played just 47 contests since.

"We have to remember this is his first full year in the National Hockey League," said Wings coach Mike Babcock. "Sometimes, you get a little carried away with expectations. You have to be a little bit patient."

Not too patient -- he's developed quickly.

Ericsson was among the team's best players in the playoffs last season after getting an honorary Stanley Cup ring and photo the year before despite not playing a post-season game and therefore not qualifying to get his name on the trophy.

"I really felt I wanted to be a bigger part of a winning team," Ericsson said of last year's run that fell short in the Cup final rematch against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Unfortunately, we didn't win, and I still don't have a Cup or a (real) ring. That was really disappointing."

The memorable experience hasn't left Ericsson feeling like a veteran, but he plays like one most of the time.

"He's going be an elite player in this league," said fellow blueliner Brett Lebda, who partnered with Ericsson last night.

"He's way beyond his years."


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