Over the course of the offseason I’m going to provide write-ups on some of the young prospects that Red Wings fans might be seeing wear the Winged Wheel in the near future.
This week’s featured player is defenseman Jonathan Ericsson.
In 2001, Red Wings chief European scout, Hakan Andersson, was on assignment scouting a forward who was playing for Vita Hasten in the Swedish J20 Elite league. What transpired was a classic story of the Wings' scout finding another diamond in the rough.
In this one particular game, Jonathan Ericsson, a 6’5” center man, had been asked to fill in on defense, and according to Andersson, he stole the show.
He spoke with Ericsson after the game and recommended that he switch to that position permanently.
The Wings selected the big and converted defenseman with the last pick in the 2002 draft, 291st overall.
Over the next four seasons Ericsson bounced between the Swedish Elite league and lesser tiers before signing an entry level contract with Detroit in 2006.
He began the 2006-2007 campaign with the Red Wings minor league affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins and recorded an impressive 29 points in 67 games while racking up 102 penalty minutes.
Having played center most of his life, Ericsson enjoys an impressive skill-set. He has excellent mobility and agility for a player his size, possesses solid hands, has above average puck skills, and makes a very good first pass. His shot’s not too shabby either, having recorded a 100.1 mph slap shot at the 2008 AHL skills competition.
But don’t let his soft hands fool you. He plays a physical brand of hockey with a willingness to protect his teammates by dropping the gloves.
However, it’s his competitiveness and work ethic that could be his two greatest assets. It’s that competitive nature that has allowed him to climb the ladder in the Detroit organization so quickly.
"In training camp, I had him slotted in the AHL and hopefully he could survive there. He might have to have some time in the ECHL. He's been the biggest surprise, of anybody, right from Day 1 of camp. He came in with confidence. It's amazing,” remarked Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill in January of 2007.
In September of 2007, Ericsson took part in the annual prospects tournament hosted by the Red Wings in Traverse City, MI. In six games against seven fellow NHL club's prospects he was routinely the strongest Red Wing on the ice, scoring four goals.
Following the prospects camp, he took part in the Red Wings main pro-camp where he was the last defenseman to be cut.
His performance was a lasting one on Red Wings head coach, Mike Babcock. "We have a kid named Ericsson, and I can't believe we don't dress him. I think he's going to be a stud in the league," he said.
Detroit general manager Ken Holland also expressed his belief that Ericsson has a bright future when he pronounced on XM satellite's ‘Home Ice’ channel that he believes he is a top four defenseman in the waiting.
Unfortunately for Jonathan, the depth the Red Wings possess on the blue line could postpone his engagement with the big club for another season. Fellow Griffin defenseman Kyle Quincy is another young defender who is NHL ready, but is no longer waiver eligible.
With no options left, the Red Wings can either begin the season with Quincy on the starting roster or expose him to waivers; something Ken Holland is loathe to do considering how well he played in the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Nevertheless, if Ericsson continues to improve and has another strong training camp, Holland may be forced into making some deals to open a spot for this late bloomer; a problem every NHL GM dreams about.