DETROIT -- Jonathan Ericsson
-- at 6-foot-4, 206 pounds -- became a name whispered around the Anaheim Ducks dressing room at the morning skate prior to Game 1 of the Ducks-Red Wings Western Conference semifinals matchup Friday night.
The 25-year-old defenseman is one of those classic late-round, late-blooming Swedish draft choices -- he was the last pick in the 2002 Entry Draft -- the Red Wings have become known for. Ericsson became important in the pregame chatter when Wings coach Mike Babcock announced that defenseman Brian Rafalski would not be in the lineup. That means Ericsson will play alongside six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom
, and their main assignment in Game 1 will be stopping the potent line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan.
"I've never seen him play," Perry said.
"Me either," added Getzlaf. "Only on TV. He's a big kid. Long reach. Ask Bobby. He may have seen him in the American Hockey League."
Hey, Bobby, Bobby Ryan. What can you tell us about Jonathan Ericsson
"Who?" he said. "I don't think I played against Grand Rapids. All I can say is he must be pretty good to get to play alongside Lidstrom. And they really must think a lot about him to use him in such an important game."
Whispers. Not a lot of insight. But you can be sure the Ducks' No. 1 line will know a lot more about Ericsson before they drop the puck.
According to Babcock, aside from being the 291st and last pick in 2002, Ericsson will look to the Ducks like a mirror-image of Chris Pronger, their own All-Star defenseman.
"Big body," Babcock said. "Actually, he looks like Chris Pronger. Except for the cross checking."
Big body. Actually, he looks like Chris Pronger. Except for the cross checking. - Mike Babcock on Ericcson
Big smile on the Detroit coach's face.
Ericsson is just another one of those multi-talented, mobile Detroit defensemen they seem to produce better than cars and trucks in the Motor City. Late bloomer? Maybe. But Babcock thought he was ready to play in Detroit last season. There just wasn't any room for Ericsson, until he was brought up when an injury spat hit the Red Wings’ defense. Babcock remembers having Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall
playing head-up on Jarome Iginla one night against Calgary in a 1-0 win.
"He's a big body, can really skate, can really pass the puck," Babcock added. "We like his ability just because he thinks the game well, but his size gives him a distinct advantage over a lot of other guys."
Ericsson was recalled from Grand Rapids in early May after defenseman Andreas Lilja was crushed in a fight with Nashville's Shea Weber, sustaining a concussion. Lilja still hasn't returned to the lineup, but Ericsson has certainly made his mark, getting 1 goal and 3 assists in 19 regular-season games.
His first playoff appearance was surreal -- he scored the game-winning goal in a three-goal second period explosion to lead the Red Wings to a 4-1 victory against Columbus on April 16.
"I wasn't nervous until a few minutes before the game and I saw how focused the guys were," Ericsson said. "That's when I knew how really important the game was to all of us.
"It's funny, but I didn't expect to be here more than two or three games when Andreas Lilja got hurt. But here I am, playing in the playoffs. All I know is I really want to be here. I was to feel like I belong. I don't doubt myself one bit."
As it turns out Ericsson and Kronwall, two unlikely goal scorers in that Game 1 win, lived in Kronwall's house in Detroit until just four days before the playoffs began.
"Did Nik throw you out?" I asked.
"No, my girlfriend (Evelina) finally arrived from Grand Rapids," Ericsson laughed. "We're still pals. We don't drive to practices or games together anymore, but we still have lunch regularly. What it came down to is: I never expected to be here this long, so she stayed there until I went back. And we thought it would be too big of an imposition on Nik to have my girlfriend and myself staying at his place."
And there are clearly no demotion issues anymore, not the way Ericsson has played.
When I asked Babcock for one more comment on his rookie defenseman, he replied, "I'd say he should be a Red Wing for, oh, about the next 15 years."
Now you know what the Ducks likely will find out when their Western Conference Semifinals series begins in Detroit Friday night and they see this big Chris Pronger-type defender out their against Anaheim's top line.
Author: Larry Wigge | NHL.com Columnist