When Jonathan Ericsson made his eight-game debut with Detroit during the 2007-08 campaign, the Red Wings blueline was filled with big-time names such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios and Brian Rafalski. That team went on to win Detroit's most recent Stanley Cup.
Two years later, Ericsson became a regular on the Wings back end and the team still had a huge veteran presence with Lidstrom, Rafalski and Brad Stuart, not to mention an ascending Niklas Kronwall.
Now Kronwall and Ericsson are the big names and the two Swedes are helping guide what is becoming a very solid defense corps once again for coach Mike Babcock. It's all pretty startling for a player who was the last overall pick in the 2002 draft, in a ninth round that no longer exists.
“It felt like it came pretty quickly there," Ericsson said. "All of a sudden I was one of the oldest ones and we became one of the youngest teams. I like the role I’ve been given here, trying to shut down top lines. I know I’m not going to be a power play guy.”
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he doesn't have to be. Ericsson plays tough minutes for the Wings and is a vital part of the penalty kill, which is one of the best in the league. He also plays on the team's top pairing with Kronwall, a player Ericsson owes a lot of his developmental success to.
“Both on and off the ice, especially when I first came here," he said. "Everything was new. I didn’t know how to get a checking account, a bank account. And the way he prepares himself on and off the ice – 'Babs' is always talking about being a pro and being like 'Kronner.' ”
Because Swedes tend to speak such eloquent English, it's easy to forget they come from a different culture. But there were adjustments Ericsson had to make over in North America, even when it came to eating.
“I was missing a lot of Swedish food when I first got here," he said. "But years go by and you find these little secrets in the stores and you can adapt the Swedish cooking. But I’ve also really come to appreciate American food and I miss that when I go back to Sweden over the summer.”
American steaks are a favorite – Ericsson likes the bigger size and says Sweden is still catching up in the meat department (though he does vouch for Max Burger, his nation's answer to McDonald's) and that's probably not surprising given the large frame he needs to fill out each day.
Now 30 years old, Ericsson is firmly entrenched in the NHL and a new generation has come in behind him. Young blueliners such as Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith have less than 150 games of NHL experience each, but bring nice skill sets to the table. Ericsson says he's always available to field questions, though he prefers to give general advice rather than tell others what style to play.
“How to react, how to read off situations, that’s the most common question," he said. "And that can vary, anything from jumping into the offensive play too early or late, or situations in the defensive zone as well.”
So far, the mixture of youth and experience has worked well for the Wings, who are coming off a 5-0 waxing of Columbus and sit in a playoff position. For a team that hasn't missed the post-season in decades, that shouldn't be surprising. But finding and growing players such as Ericsson goes a long way in explaining how that streak has come to be.