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.”