DALLAS - It’s not hard to figure out why the Dallas Stars have been a surprise contender in the West this season. Though the team has admirable depth, the top line of Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson and James Neal has done the most damage offensively and Eriksson in particular is having a breakout season.
The 25-year-old Swede played in his first All-Star Game this season and as happy as fellow honoree Richards was for his young linemate, the vet still had some good-natured nerves about the draft process.
“I’m just glad I went before him,” Richards said. “It would have been a tough room to come back to.”
The rapport Eriksson has with Richards has been a big part of the maturing process for the right winger. In past years, the Dallas dressing room was dominated by Stars lifers such as Mike Modano, Marty Turco and Jere Lehtinen - speaking up could be intimidating. But Richards has encouraged Eriksson to talk with him and the communication has benefitted both.
“Loui has really changed that way,” Richards said. “Two years ago he never really said much, he just listened to me, but now he’s giving me feedback, telling me if I make a wrong read. He’s helping me just as much as I’m helping him.”
Eriksson admits he’s a quiet guy and probably always will be, but the fact Richards had a Stanley Cup ring and a Conn Smythe Trophy when he landed in Dallas from Tampa Bay meant he had experience the young Swede craved.
“I asked him about it when he came here,” Eriksson said. “And we’ve been getting closer ever since. ‘Richie’ likes to talk and he’s a great leader. The past two years, if you do something wrong or right, he tries to help you.”
Coming over from Sweden a couple seasons after being selected 33rd overall by the Stars, Eriksson’s North American experience began in the American League with Iowa where, naturally, adjustments had to be made.
“The game style, it’s more physical – it’s more of a straight game over here,” Eriksson said. “But you get used to it.”
Fortunately for the gifted winger, the Iowa Stars saw a number of Swedes spend time with the squad during that 2005-06 campaign, such as Mathias Tjarnqvist, Nicklas Grossman and Yared Hagos, so culture shock wasn’t much of a problem for Eriksson. By ’08-09, he was a full-timer in Big D and his point totals have been on an upward trajectory ever since. This season, Eriksson is top-15 in the league with 53 points in 53 games and a plus-15 rating. He can score and set up his linemates and, once again, playing off each other is the name of the game.
“You see the chemistry they have together,” said GM Joe Nieuwendyk. “Some nights they look like the Harlem Globetrotters out there with the way they move that puck around.”
The question now is: how good can Eriksson become? Naturally, whether Richards stays in Dallas will have some bearing - he is coming to the end of his contract with the Stars and his name has been all over the rumor mill this season - but the talented Swede, who can be very elusive when he has the puck, is certainly coming into his own.
He may be too quiet to toot his own horn, but Eriksson’s play is doing the talking for him.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays, The Hot List appears Tuesdays and Rookie Report appears every other Wednesday.