Last season was a difficult one for the Swedish forward, who arrived in Boston via trade in the summer of 2013. For the first time in his NHL career — for the first time in seven years — he was in a city other than Dallas. He was surrounded by new teammates and was operating in a drastically different system from the one he became accustomed to with the Stars. There were plenty of adjustments, as it were.
And then came the concussions.
The first one came just a few weeks into the season, in late October, and it would keep Eriksson out for a couple of weeks. Then, almost exactly one month later, came the second, and this one — his second in such a short period of time — would keep him out of the lineup for over a month.
Eriksson returned for good with almost half the season already gone. He had half a season to prove himself in Boston. He got a boost from two weeks spent in Sochi in mid-February, where he paced his native Sweden to a silver medal in the Olympics. When he returned, he was a new player — more assertive, more confident, better adjusted.
He wanted to carry that over into the 2014-15 season, which he hoped would be concussion-free and injury free. He did just that.
“I’m feeling much better this year,” Eriksson said during the Bruins’ season-ending media availability last month. “I thought I’d been having a pretty good season — been playing in all different situations and producing pretty good. I’ve been feeling good.
“Hopefully, I can build on this, and we get better for next year.”
During a year in which there wasn’t much that seemed to go right for the Bruins, Eriksson was a bright spot — perhaps even the brightest spot. His 22 goals were the third-most on the team, behind Brad Marchand’s 24 and Patrice Bergeron’s 23. His 47 points were the second-most on the team. Statistically, this season marked Eriksson’s strongest since a 71-point campaign in 2011-12.
This year was, in many ways, a relief for Eriksson. He could still produce offensively without sacrificing in his own end — and Eriksson’s defensive game proved to be one of the strongest, and often one of the most undervalued, elements of his overall game. He could still be a difference-maker. He could still come through in the clutch, as he did in many an overtime game for the Bruins this season.
He still had it.
“I think I took a step forward this year,” Eriksson said. “Last year was real tough, with all that went wrong with the concussions and everything. I think this year, I only missed one game, so it’s good to have been healthy and been playing.
“I think I learned the system well, and I’d been having a good year. It’s too bad it comes [down] to missing the playoffs.”
And that, in the end, was all that mattered to Eriksson — not the fact that he had a bounceback year, not the fact that his personal accomplishments were worthy of his own expectations and those of the Bruins’ coaching staff and management.
All that mattered was that the Bruins, as a whole, fell short of their ultimate goal. That, perhaps, is the biggest indicator that he has fully adjusted to the Bruins Way.
“It doesn’t really matter how much you produce or everything around it,” he said. “All you want us to do is make it to the playoffs and try to win.”
There was plenty of disappointment to go around when the Bruins packed up for the summer in mid-April. It was far too early, by their own standards. All season long, they fought to stay in the playoff race, and they did just that for the bulk of the year. When it all came down to the final three games, however, the B’s could not get the two points they ultimately needed, and as a result, they went home early.
“It’s just a big disappointment, for sure, that we can’t make the playoffs,” Eriksson said. “That’s where you want to be. End of the day, it’s always tough for everyone. Everyone wants to be playing right now and keep going.
“We had our ups and downs this year, and at the end, it comes [down] to the last game of the season, and it’s too bad we didn’t make it. It’s a big disappointment.”
Inconsistency was a word that came up early and often during Breakup Day 2015. Eriksson may have rediscovered consistency in his own game, but the team, as a unit, could not do the same. There were too many injuries, too many cold spells and something else — something that was missing — that no one player could quite put his finger on. All of that, combined, led to an early exit.
The most glaring issue the Bruins battled all season, though, was on offense. They could not find a way to put the puck in the back of the net often enough or consistently enough. That wasn’t lost on Eriksson or anyone else in Boston’s room.
“I think everyone wants to win and do well,” Eriksson said. “I think we felt like we could do a little bit better job in getting more shots through and getting more traffic, and get more of those dirty goals.
“We need to get more shots to the net and get more traffic and get more people in front. Sometimes, we had it, and that’s when we were scoring. And sometimes, we were kind of being on the outside a little bit too much and were not scoring many goals.
“[It’s about] just finding ways to get more shots and make more traffic; that’s how you score in this league.”
If it is any consolation, though, Eriksson proved he is capable of doing just that. He is capable of putting the puck on net. He is capable of getting those dirty goals in front — at full strength, and on the man advantage, where he proved to be a valuable asset this season. He is capable of getting the job done, and because he wasn’t quite ready to close the book on the 2014-15 season when it ended for Boston in mid-April, he is continuing to prove it as a member of Sweden’s national team at the IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic.
In three games with Team Sweden thus far, Eriksson has three goals, two assists and a plus-four rating. All three goals came in Sweden’s 8-1 victory over Latvia on Monday. When his journey in Prague is over, he’ll begin focusing on the ways he can propel that offensive momentum into a similarly successful campaign next year.
“I think [Boston] is a city and a team that’s a great team to play for,” Eriksson said. “A lot of good fans, [and] it’s always a good atmosphere when you’re here and you play.
“We can do something better than we did this year to make it to the playoffs next year, so hopefully, we can have a good summer here and get better.”