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Jonathan Ericsson has grown into his spot on the Wings’ top blue line pair

DETROIT – Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson thought for a moment about all the blue liners he had been paired up with over his six seasons with the Wings.

And there are a lot of them, which is why it’s understandable how he feels as stable as ever with whom he’s paired with now … Niklas Kronwall.

“I’m fortunate to play with him,” Ericsson said after the Wings’ morning skate at Joe Louis Arena Monday. “He’s our best defenseman by far. He’s always doing a good job for us every night. He makes it easy for me. We have a good way of communicating out there and we feed off each other and he makes things more comfortable for me out there.

“The more you play with each other the more comfortable you get,” Ericsson added. “When you keep switching it takes some time, but you learn. Maybe it doesn’t come right away, but it does.”

Ericsson compares his fellow Swede to one of the best to ever play in the NHL, Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired this past offseason.

“He’s really close, that’s why we call him Nick junior,” Ericsson said. “This year I played with everyone at the beginning of the season and then we got stable and stuck with the three pairs. Everyone is different. They all have different roles. It’s just sticking with whatever role that is and you just have to play your game too.”

Ericsson is 6-foot-4 and was the last player taken in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. And like most of the Wings’ prospects they had him spend a number seasons overseas before bringing him to Grand Rapids.

“They always had a good D corps here so it just took a while to get in,” Ericsson said. “That’s how they develop all the players here and I think they’ve done a good job. When you get up here most players are ready to stay up and not be up and down. You have to be patient. Everything doesn’t come all at one, you just have to work your way in.”

Ericsson raised his own bar high after his second short stint in Detroit and carried that over to a strong run in the 2009 playoffs.

But then came some very inconsistent play over the next few seasons as Ericsson found himself in the Wings’ final pairing on D most of the nights.

“It took him some time,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He was a forward growing up. It took him awhile to learn the differences in the game. He played in the five-six pair, or third pair, for a number of years and played well for us. And he just kept getting better. He’s a real good person, works hard. He can make the pass, shoot the puck. He’s a big body, can fight well. We like him.”

Now with departure of a number of top four defensemen over the last few seasons, Ericsson, 29, is on the top pairing in charge of shutting down the opponent’s top units.

“With just the responsibilities that have come with that role, I think he’s been great,” Kronwall said. “Everybody in this organization knew that he could do it. They’ve known that for a few years, ever since he came in and played that great series, I think it was against Columbus, his first playoff. I think he’s really come into his own.

“(He’s) made the transition real smooth, easy,” Kronwall added. “He’s always one of those guys who wants the puck and talks a lot out there and makes it easy for you.”

Ericsson also has played a main role on the Wings’ penalty kill. Averaging over 18 minutes of ice time in the playoffs, 3:20 of it has come killing penalties.

“I don’t know how to put it in words how much he means to this club,” Kronwall said. “He’s out there playing big minutes, 5-on-5, a shut-down guy and plays obvious heavy minutes on the PK. He means a lot to this team and we’re really happy that he’s playing so well.”

Kronwall, Ericsson collect from Brunner after Sweden downs Switzerland

DETROIT — There were a number of joyful Wings in the locker room, recalling Sweden’s title at the World Championships on Sunday.

Both Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson had brothers playing on the team.

“Obviously both of us are really proud today,” Kronwall said. “I think all Swedes are, really.”

Jimmie Ericsson had one goal in seven games, while Staffan Kronwall had an assist in 10 games.

After the win the Swedish players all put on gold helmets.

“That’s a tradition back in Sweden, anytime someone wins the championship at home the winning team always gets the gold helmets,” Kronwall said. “It’s something that’s been around for quite some time. It was cool seeing them out on the ice with them.”

Sweden beat Switzerland, 5-1, which meant Damien Brunner had to pay up on bets, which was buying dinner.

Ericsson heading to Sweden to play for hometown team for free; for at least three games

TROY – As many NHLers are bolting for a paycheck in Europe, one player is heading there to give back.

Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson will play at least three home games for a third-division Swedish club, Vita Hasten.

It’s his hometown team where he grew up playing and they’re struggling to fill the arena.

Ericsson, 28, won’t get paid for playing and a third party has stepped in and is paying to insure his contract with the Wings. He has two years remaining on that contact that pays him $3.25 million a season.

“It’s kind of for a good cause, trying to help out,” Ericsson said. “You’re probably thinking how can they afford his insurance, but it’s one guy who’s stepping in and paying the whole insurance. I’m not getting paid. It’s just to get a good crowd going there.”

Ericsson lives in the town in the offseason.

“Hopefully it can generate some profit for the team,” Ericsson said. “Hopefully they can get on the right track again. It’s going to be fun to do this.”

Ericsson will leave Thursday or Friday and play next Wednesday.

“It’s an OK division,” said Ericsson, who compared the league to the East Coast Hockey League. “They’re a really good team, haven’t lost a game yet. I think they’re 8-0. They’re a second division team but just haven’t made it up there yet.”

The Swedish Elite League won’t accept locked out players who don’t commit for the rest of the season, which benefits the lower Swedish leagues and other European leagues.

As for now, Ericsson plans to just play the three games with the club and then return to Detroit.

“A lot of guys are moving now (going to Europe), if it’s only like four guys skating it’s tough to keep ourselves going in the practices,” Ericsson said. “There’s only so much you can do with that few guys. My plans right now are to come back after those games. I might have to wait a couple of weeks back home, see my family. I’m not in a rush.”

Six other Wings have signed to play in Europe – Henrik Zetterberg (EV Zug, Switzerland), Pavel Datsyuk (CSKA Moscow, Russia), Valtteri Filppula (Jokerit, Finland), Drew Miller (Breahead Clan, Scotland), Jakub Kindl (Pardubice, Czech Republic), Jan Mursak (HDD Olimpija Ljubljana, Slovenia) and Damien Brunner (EV Zug, Switzerland).

“I’m a little bit frustrated, not because of the guys that are leaving, more because nothing’s really happened with the negotiations,” Ericsson said. “They’re trying to solve other things, too, but they haven’t really brought up the big problems for discussion for a while. It doesn’t feel like it’s going to happen anytime soon.”

All of the Wings are expected to return to Detroit once the lockout is over.

The players were locked out at midnight on Sept. 16.

This is the third lockout during NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s watch.

The first, in 1994-95, ended after 103 days. The last time the league locked the players out it resulted in the cancellation of the 2004-05 season.