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Ericsson relishes bigger role

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – A very big opportunity stands in front of Jonathan Ericsson this season.

With a few holes to fill along the blue line, especially with the departure of Brian Rafalski, who retired after last season, the 6-foot-4 Ericsson is looking forward to the opportunities.

And that’s great news, considering the Red Wings made a very big commitment by signing Ericsson to a three-year contact worth $9.75 million this summer. By doing so hours prior to the start of the July 1 free-agency period, Ericsson said, he didn’t even entertain the idea of looking elsewhere.

“My first priority was to always stay here,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve always had really good top-four defensemen here on long-term deals, and it’s been tough to get more opportunities then I’ve got.”

Coach Mike Babcock would like to see that change, too. However he said earlier this week that the top two defensive units – at least for the start of the exhibition season – will be Nicklas Lidstrom and Ian White, and Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart.

But Babcock does want to see Ericsson become a top-four sooner than later.

“E can be a minute-muncher. He’s a good kid, and he needs to take his game to the next level,” Babcock said. “We think he’s a big part of the future. We think we’ve got five guys in our top four. We’re really happy about that.”

Even if he’s on the third pairing, Ericsson can be a valuable resource, by assuming more ice-time, and on the power-play. Lidstrom, again, led the defensemen in average ice-time last season. But the captain is 41-years-old, and the coaches would like to pull the ice-time reins on the future hall-of-famer and give more of a workload to Ericsson.

“It’s up to myself and they’re going to have higher expectations of me, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s a little more pressure, but that’s always good. I think it helps players, most of the players, anyway. You always want to put some pressure on yourself.”

In little more than two full seasons, Ericsson has never been asked to contribute much offensively. But that’s among some things that he would like to change.

“I was way more consistent last year, but now Rafi’s gone and more opportunities will be doled out here for all of the players, and hopefully I’ll step-up my game this year,” he said. “First of all, it’s the consistency of my defensive game. I want to keep improving on that, maybe even get more involved offensively.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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