DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings thought they had found a diamond in the rough when they selected Swedish defenseman Jonathan Ericsson with the final pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
And after his performance in the 2008-09 playoffs, it looked like they were right.
However, Ericsson has struggled to find that same luster in his game ever since.
That didn’t stop the Wings from giving the 27-year old a healthy pay increase and locking him up for the next three seasons.
“I’m very happy to be back here and very excited about the new season,” Ericsson said after an informal skate at Joe Louis Arena on Monday. “They’re showing some confidence in me. I’ve got to take advantage of that and try to do the best of it.
“My first priority was always to stay here,” Ericsson added. “Things worked out well.”
Prior to the opening of free agency, Detroit signed Ericsson to a three-year deal worth $3.25 million a season, which makes him the third highest paid blue liner the Wings have, only behind Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart.
He made just $900,000 last year.
“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.”
Ericsson still has a lot to prove if he wants to be one of the Wings’ top four defensemen.
With the top three slots – Lidstrom, Stuart and Niklas Kronwall – secure, Ericsson will battle in training camp and the preseason with newly signed Ian White and Mike Commodore for that coveted fourth spot.
“I felt way more consistent last year,” said Ericsson, who at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds is the biggest defenseman on the team. “But now (Brian Rafalski) is gone and more opportunity is going to be there for all the players. I’m hoping to step up my game here this year.”
In the past two seasons, Ericsson has struggled with consistency.
Wings coach Mike Babcock at times paired Ericsson with Lidstrom on the blue line in an attempt to help the young defenseman grow more confident in his game and put an end to costly turnovers and mistakes on the ice.
“First of all it’s consistency on my defensive game,” Ericsson said when asked what he needs to improve on. “I want to keep improving that and maybe even get a little more involved offensively.”
Ericsson’s plus-minus did rebound last season. After finishing a minus-15 two years ago, he was a plus-8 last season.
“They’ve always had top four defensemen sign long-term deals,” Ericsson said. “It’s been tough to maybe get more opportunity than I’ve had before. I’m just looking forward to it.”
And with the retirement of Rafalski, the Wings have a hole on the power play along the blue line. That’s a spot he’s hoping to fill.
“It would be nice,” Ericsson said. “They’ve mentioned it. When the time comes and I get the opportunity I just have to take advantage of it. Maybe I’ll get a few chances in there. That would be fun.”