DETROIT -- Jonathan Ericsson was the ultimate "Mr. Irrelevant" when he was selected by the Detroit Red Wings with the 291st pick in the 2002 NHL Draft.
Now, the 29-year old defenseman is anything but irrelevant in his role on the right side of Detroit's top defense pairing with Swedish countryman Niklas Kronwall. The Red Wings confirmed it Wednesday morning by announcing a six-year contract extension for Ericsson worth a reported $25.5 million.
Ericsson, who's missed 10 games with a shoulder injury, has one goal and four assists with a plus-3 rating in 15 games heading into a "Wednesday Night Rivalry" game against the Boston Bruins at Joe Louis Arena (7:30 p.m., NBCSN).
"When I got drafted this was a longshot for me," Ericsson said following Detroit's morning skate. "Just being able to maybe one day to play for the Red Wings, that's one thing. But to be able to play here for, I don't know how many years it's going to be now, it's an amazing feeling. Being a part of this top-ranked organization for my whole career is great."
Ericsson has played in parts of seven seasons in the NHL, all for the Red Wings. He's logged 292 games and has 14 goals and 48 assists with a plus-14 rating. He's worked his way up the depth chart since debuting in the 2007-08 season, six years after he was the last pick in the ninth round of that 2002 draft.
In the NFL, the last pick of each draft is celebrated as "Mr. Irrelevant" and showered with gifts. Ericsson's "gift" from the Red Wings was a slim chance to make it. It took a lot of patience from him and the team, but here he is now with a shiny new contract.
"I think I've always been a late-bloomer when it comes to everything," said Ericsson, who became a father for the first time earlier this season. "'Mr. Irrelevant,' I think they called me that lots of times. I’m actually glad. I’d rather be the last pick than the fifth-to-last pick. I'm making some kind of history. I know there won't be any later picks than me now and I don't think there has been a later pick than me that's playing in the NHL, so that's pretty special. I'll take that."
Turns out Ericsson knows his draft history pretty well. The NHL went from nine rounds to seven in 2005 and there were three drafts with as many players taken as his '02 class.
Thus, there is one other active player in the NHL who was drafted 291st, same as Ericsson. That's St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott, but he was the second-to-last pick of the 2003 draft, thanks to the New Jersey Devils taking Arseny Bondarev, a Russian forward, with the 292nd pick.
Also of note in the 2003 draft is the fact the Blues current goalies were taken in the ninth round. Elliott was selected by the Ottawa Senators 20 picks after the Montreal Canadiens took Jaroslav Halak, the guy he now backs up, with the 271st pick.
Ericsson also has quite the success story.
Despite the long odds of not only making it to the NHL, he's managed to work his way into a critical role along the blue line for the Red Wings. Attrition through the past few seasons left Detroit without three stalwart defenders: Nicklas Lidstrom (retirement), Brian Rafalski (retirement) and Brad Stuart (free agency).
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland wasn't going to let another one get away.
"You can't just keep losing Lidstrom and Rafalski and Stuart and then lose [Ericsson]," Holland said. "You can't keep losing players. After a while, you wake up and there's not enough players. So, I went to [Ericsson's] agent in late September and early October and told him that it was a priority to get him signed. We certainly had some comparables in the marketplace and ultimately we came up with the deal we came up with. He's a real important guy on our team."
Detroit coach Mike Babcock sees it the same way, only he also sees Ericsson as a key puzzle piece for another reason. The Red Wings have a number of talented young defensemen in the pipeline and Ericsson could help them develop the way some former vets helped him.
"We can’t lose [defensemen]," Babcock said. "It takes time to become a good player. The great thing about it is, if you have Lidstrom or Kronwall and it looks like maybe [Danny DeKeyser], to play guys with, they look good. But when you don't have one of those guys to play them with, it maybe takes you some time to become a good player in the League. If you're fortunate in Boston to play with [Zdeno Chara] every night, it helps you a little. Yet if you're on your own, it's a lot harder League. We have kids coming, but they're just kids. It takes time."
Ericsson is proof.
Other news out of the Red Wings morning skate included center Pavel Datsyuk getting back on the ice for the first time since taking an elbow to the chin from Ottawa Senators defenseman Jared Cowen this past weekend.
Datsyuk, who's out against the Bruins while going through concussion protocols, skated for about 10 minutes in the optional skate and left the ice. Holland said Datsyuk would miss a road game Friday against the New York Islanders and would be reassessed prior to a game on Sunday in Ottawa.
Detroit will be without Todd Bertuzzi (upper body) against the Bruins, who got defenseman Adam McQuaid (lower body) back after missing the past eight games. However, defenseman Dennis Seidenberg (lower body) will miss his fourth straight.
Tuukka Rask appears to be the starting goalie for Boston and Jonas Gustavsson will get the start for Detroit.
Here is how the Bruins and Red Wings might line up Wednesday:
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Jarome Iginla
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Loui Eriksson
Carl Soderberg - Chris Kelly - Reilly Smith
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton
Johnny Boychuk - Matt Bartkowski
Adam McQuaid - Torey Krug
Scratched: Jordan Caron
Injured: Dennis Seidenberg (lower body), Adam McQuaid (lower body)
Johan Franzen - Henrik Zetterberg - Gustav Nyquist
Justin Abdelkader - Darren Helm - Daniel Alfredsson
Drew Miller - Joakim Andersson - Tomas Tatar
Daniel Cleary - Stephen Weiss - Mikael Samuelsson
Niklas Kronwall - Jonathan Ericsson
Kyle Quincey - Brendan Smith
Brian Lashoff - Jakub Kindl
Scratched: Pavel Datsyuk (upper body), Todd Bertuzzi (upper body)
Injured: Danny DeKeyser (upper body)