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Notes: Ericsson back with Wings after stint with Griffins

Hronek's status unknown; McIlrath has had winding road to get back to NHL

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

LOS ANGELES -- The Red Wings welcomed back an old friend Thursday morning.

Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, recalled from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins Wednesday, was on the ice with his teammates for the morning skate at Staples Center.

"It was great," Ericsson said. "Obviously, when you see all the guys, you feel like you haven't missed anything, like it was yesterday. It was great to see everyone for sure."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "Obviously it was a while ago since I played games, so it's been a lot of fun playing hockey." 🗣 Ericsson | #DETvsLAK pic.twitter.com/5anUTSUiP7

Young defenseman Filip Hronek, who scored Detroit's first goal in their 4-3 overtime comeback win in Anaheim Tuesday, did not participate in the morning skate but is not a definite scratch yet.

"I don't know that answer yet," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "We'll make those lineup decisions tonight. So I don't have a further update except we held him off this morning."

Ericsson was limited to 52 games last season because of various injuries and started this season with an assortment of ailments that kept him out.

"Johnny at the beginning of the year hadn't played much hockey in a long time and so we sent him down to the minors to play and get his game going," Blashill said. "I talked to (Griffins coach) Ben Simon, he's played good hockey. As times have changed here, we're short on left shots and he's a left shot. He's got good size.

"When Jon plays his best hockey he defends well, he's moving his feet, he's moving the puck and he's good on the penalty kill. I'm hoping he can come in and hit the ground running, having played a number of games in Grand Rapids and hopefully allow that D corps, through injuries, continue to play good hockey."

Although it had been quite a while since Ericsson had played in the American Hockey League, he embraced the opportunity to get his game going, although at a certain cost.

"It's been a good experience," Ericsson said. "Obviously the toughest part has definitely been the family situation and trying to go between Detroit and Grand Rapids as much as possible. So I haven't seen my kids and my wife as much as I want to, and they say they haven't seen me as much, either but I don't know. We'll see. That has been the toughest part. Otherwise it's been great. It's been fun playing games again. Obviously it was a while ago since I played games, so it's been a lot of fun playing hockey again."

In 10 games with the Griffins, Ericsson had two assists and was plus-4.

"I think it was important," Ericsson said. "Obviously I started out with three games in four nights and hadn't played in eight, nine months. It was a tough start for the body but after a couple of days of rest I started to feel better and better as more games I played. It was good. I think I got a fair share of games."

In Grand Rapids, Ericsson was able to play with some of the young defensemen in the system like Gustav Lindstrom and Moritz Seider.

"Obviously, I'm double the age of some of those guys almost," Ericsson said. "Obviously I have some experience in the league. I tried to help them out and give them tips or whatever I can do for them. But it's about for them to see what it takes, I think to get ready and be professional about it. To see that is important, too."

Seider is just 18 but played against men last season in Germany's top league, the DEL. In 15 games in Grand Rapids, he has eight assists and is minus-3.

"He's got a great upside as we've all seen," Ericsson said. "He's playing better and better defensively, too and I think he's playing harder and harder. He's gonna be a real good defenseman."

Ericsson is happy to be back and looking to help the Wings keep their three-game winning streak going.

"I was out there in a penalty kill unit today in practice, so hopefully I'm gonna get some time there," Ericsson said. "Me and Bowser (Madison Bowey) are paired up together so that feels good. Obviously he's been playing a lot and playing really good lately. He's gonna have to help me out."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Hello from Los Angeles! The #RedWings are on the ice ahead of #DETvsLAK. Puck drops at 10:30p. pic.twitter.com/Erv3caoUuN

The Wings also recalled defenseman Joe Hicketts, who did not arrive in time for the morning skate.

WINNING WITH MCILRATH: During the offseason, defenseman Dylan McIlrath decided he needed to change a few things.

"I knew this was kind of a make or break summer for me," McIlrath said. "I know my window is getting smaller and smaller the older I get, the less games I have, so I think signing back with Detroit, they had confidence in me that I could push for a spot and they believed in me and obviously I knew everyone around here and the supporting staff. Just tried to do everything in my control and glad to be here."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "My game is just trying to break out pucks as quick as possible, just be simple. Hopefully I can use my size to my advantage." 🗣 McIlrath | #DETvsLAK pic.twitter.com/FvBYeFXJTZ

McIlrath, 27, said he changed skating instructors in an effort to improve in that area.

"I thought that helped out a lot,".McIlrath said. "I skated with Madison this summer, so it was nice to have a guy to kind of benchmark myself around, him playing with the Wings. We feed off each other and we work great together in the summer. That helped. Like every summer, try to be in the best shape I can."

At 6-foot-5, 231 pounds, McIlrath is a big presence on the ice, which is always a good thing against the Los Angeles Kings.

"All the teams out west are kind of built heavier," McIlrath said. "I think my game is trying to break out pucks as quick as possible, just be simple. Hopefully I can use my size to my advantage."

McIlrath was originally the New York Rangers' first-round pick, 10th overall, in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft but only played in 38 games with them and then in five games with the Florida Panthers. In 2017, the Wings traded Thomas Vanek for McIlrath and a 2017 third-round pick (Kasper Kotkansalo).

"Obviously, when you're young and break into the NHL you're hoping you can stay forever," McIlrath said. "That obviously wasn't the case for me. I played a little in New York, then got in the minors and trying to get my footing again with Grand Rapids and then called up at the end of the year. This year has been a journey but I learned to enjoy it all. It's definitely a privilege to play in this league and I never take that for granted. I'm just trying to take it all in because I never know when my last NHL game will be."

McIlrath played in seven games with the Wings last spring and has played in four so far this year.

The Wings have gone 8-3 with McIlrath in the lineup, 5-2 last season and 3-1 so far this season.

"I know," McIlrath said, smiling. "I might be the good luck charm, so hopefully they can't get rid of me."

WINGS AND KINGS: In the past when the Wings faced the Kings, it was always the Kings who were the bigger, stronger and younger team.

But times have changed as the Wings have gotten younger and bigger.

The current Los Angeles team averages are 6-foot-1, 202 pounds and 27.6 years old.

The current Detroit team averages are 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and 27.6 years old.

Like the Wings in the Atlantic Division at 7-12-1, the Kings sit at the bottom of the Pacific Division at 6-11-1.

But the Kings still have some of the top players in the league in goaltender Jonathan Quick, defenseman Drew Doughty and center Anze Kopitar.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: 🗣Coach Blashill | #DETvsLAK #LGRW pic.twitter.com/hyELbwKFXZ

"They've got some really really elite players at their positon in Kopitar and Doughty, those are two of the best players at their respective positions, so when you're facings players like that it's a challenge," Blashill said. "They've done a real good job in the neutral zone forecheck, clogging up the neutral zone, so we got to get through the neutral zone. If you don't get through the neutral zone with speed you can't have a forecheck and if you don't have a forecheck, you end up playing defense too much and you certainly don't play offense enough. So we're going to have to do a really good job of that.

"We just got to keep concentrating on our own game, we got to keep playing good hockey. There's areas of the game we can keep getting better at and we can keep getting better."

At age 32, Kopitar is still a point-a-game player, leading the Kings with 18 points (6-12-18). He also leads the team in power-play points with six (2-4-6) with Doughty right behind him at four power-play points (2-2-4).

OFF DAY FUN: It wasn't just the players who took advantage of an off day in Los Angeles on Wednesday. The coaches had a little fun of their own, visiting the set of Fuller House as a guest of actor Dave Coulier.

"It was good. It's actually fun," Blashill said. "All my kids were super-mad I was there and they weren't. They're huge fans. Dave Coulier is a friend of mine, we had the day off … we had a chance to get over there in the morning and check it out a little bit, so it was cool."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Everywhere you look, Everywhere you go. 🎶#repost @DaveCoulier: On a rare day off the @detroitredwings coaches visit our @fullerhouse set @warnerbrostv #fullerhouse #lgrw�� #cutitout pic.twitter.com/iPk0CqQEwl

While Coulier is a well-known Red Wings fan, not everyone involved is.

"It was amazing how many big hockey fans there were," Blashill said. "There was one guy that picked me up in a big Kings jersey, let me know he was a Kings fan, but other than that, there were a lot of Wings fans on the set and Dave's a huge Red Wings fan, huge hockey fan. I think he fancies himself a pretty good hockey player. It was good. It was a fun day."

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