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Last player taken: Ericsson hopes to make impact

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, the Wings hope that Ericsson will bring size and a physical presence to the blue line.
DETROIT – In the NFL, they call it Mr. Irrelevant – the last college football player selected in the annual spring draft.

But for Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson -- the last player taken in the 2002 NHL draft – his selection is anything but immaterial.

“You have to have some luck along with the way,” said Ericsson, who will make his Red Wings’ debut Friday in Calgary. “At that point, I really didn’t know what the draft was about because no one from my hometown had ever been drafted. So it was new to me."

With the Red Wings’ defensive corps taking a recent hit with injuries to Brian Rafalski (groin), Niklas Kronwall (clavicle) and captain Nicklas Lidstrom (knee), it was necessary for the team to put a call into their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids.

Ericsson, who’s from Karlskrona, a small naval town on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea,
“I’ve always wanted to play in the NHL, and now I get the opportunity to do it.” - Jonathan Ericsson
could make an immediate impact on the blue line during the team’s three-game road swing through western Canada. The Wings will also play at Vancouver on Saturday and Edmonton on Tuesday.

“I think he made some major steps from last season up to this season’s training camp,” Lidstrom said of the 23-year-old Swede. “I thought he looked real mature out there hanging on to the puck, and making plays when they were there. He looked a lot more comfortable, too. Once he gets a chance to play, he should be fine and there shouldn’t be any problems.”

The physical style that he’s likely to encounter in the NHL shouldn’t be an issue for Ericsson, who at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds has the moxie to play a tough brand.

“I still need to be more physical and a little bit more mean,” he said. “That’s what I’ll try to bring out here. I’m pretty good with the puck, but while I’m here I’m going to play a pretty simple game. I’ll try to use my body because I have the size for it.”

In his second full-season with the Griffins, it seems that Ericsson has made the adjustments
Besides his physical size, Ericsson (52) has a lethal slap shot, recently clocked at over 100 m.p.h. at the AHL All-Star Game.
from playing in larger European rinks to the much smaller North American varieties. He’s adjusted so well that he was named to the All-Star Game this season, where during the skills competition he finished second in the hardest shot, touching 100 m.p.h.

Red Wings right wing Mikael Samuelsson has seen Ericsson’s skills up close, having played together for Sodertalje during the 2004-05 season in Sweden. While Samuelsson has known about the youngster’s skills, he was aware of his triple-digit velocity.

“I didn’t know that,” Samuelsson said, “but it doesn’t surprise me because I knew he had a hard shot. He’s got to get it off to, I guess.”

Ericsson’s shot is a perfect weapon for a defenseman, especially during power play situations when he can uncoil his wicked shot from the point.

But Ericsson hasn’t always played the blue line. The season before the Wings drafted the young Swede, he was a center for Hasten – then coached by his dad, Sven -- of the Swedish junior league.

After attending a game in Sweden, Wings European scout Hakan Andersson convinced Sven Ericsson to convert his son to a defenseman.

Switching positions in hockey isn’t necessarily difficult; even legend Gordie Howe finished his Detroit career as a part-time defenseman. But Lidstrom thinks going from a forward position to defense is a lot more challenging then vice-versa.

“It’s impressive. It really is,” Lidstrom said. “It’s not easy going from playing forward to playing D, where he you make a mistake it shows up a lot quicker then if you’re playing forward.”

Ericsson takes his role change in stride.

“I pretty much had a defensive role as a center,” he said. “I don’t think it’s that big of a change.”

It is however a life change for the young Swede.

“This is a dream coming true,” Ericsson said. “I’ve always wanted to play in the NHL, and now I get the opportunity to do it.”

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