The 24-year-old left winger continued to blossom as a top-notch offensive force, while also maintaining the solid defensive presence he’d already established a reputation for. Eriksson, a native of Goteborg, Sweden, topped the Stars in goals for the second year in a row, with 29, and posted a career-high 71 points, second on the squad.
Eriksson, who logged 19:45 of ice time per contest, second among Stars forwards, also notched four game-winning goals, tied for most on the team, while adding two short-handed tallies as well.
The soft-spoken, humble Eriksson typically deflected any praise sent his way, but his regular center wasn’t shy about expressing how important his contributions are to the Stars.
“From my perspective, I always try to go in and do my best out there, try to build on every game you play,” said Eriksson, who was one of three Stars who skated in all 82 games this season, the second straight year he suited up for every contest. “You want to get better every day you get in here.”
“I say it all the time - I think he’s one of the more underrated players in the league,” said usual linemate Brad Richards of Eriksson. “I get to see him every night and he’s kind of my security blanket. I know there’s not many games he takes off, if any. If he is struggling, he can hide it better than anybody.”
Included in Eriksson’s memorable year was a career-high eight-game points streak from Dec. 8-23, when he compiled three goals and 12 points, as well as his second career NHL hat trick in a 5-3 win over Anaheim in the Stars’ annual New Year’s Eve home game. Another highlight was getting selected to Team Sweden at the Olympics in February, where Eriksson shone on the biggest of stages, scoring three goals and an assist in four games while skating on their top line.
Following his breakout 36-goal season last year, Eriksson impressively navigated through the increased attention from opposing clubs’ top checking lines and was crucial to any success the Stars enjoyed.
“I think it’s really important that we remember the positives,” Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk said after the season’s unfortunate conclusion. “I know when you don’t make the playoffs, you like to dwell on a lot of the negatives. But Loui Eriksson
had a career high in point totals, Brad Richards, a 90-point season.”
The thing about the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Eriksson, is that his full impact on the game goes far beyond the scoresheet. Before his offensive awakening, he had already developed into one of the NHL’s better defensive forwards, prompting some comparisons to veteran teammate Jere Lehtinen, who is contemplating retirement this summer.
Lehtinen, a three-time Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defensive forward and a seven-time 20-goal scorer, is one of the most accomplished two-way players of his generation, so to be mentioned in the same breath as him is high praise indeed.
“He’s a terrific player,” Nieuwendyk, who rejoined the Stars organization last summer, said of Eriksson. “If this is it for Jere Lehtinen and we don’t know yet if it is, but this guy is kind of like Jere Lehtinen in waiting, in my opinion. He’s a terrific, hard worker, he brings the same game every day and when you really watch him - I saw that last year he scored 36 goals, but I didn’t know a lot about him, but when you see him day-in and day-out and when you see the professionalism he brings to the rink and the way he plays, you understand why.”
“Of course, I’ve been looking up to him because he’s played a lot of years,” Eriksson said of Lehtinen, who will turn 37 on June 23. “It’s always fun to be compared to him, but I don’t know. Lehts is a really good player and he’s good defensively. At times, I play pretty good defensively, too, so maybe that’s why they think that I’m a little like him. Yeah, I watch him a little bit. He doesn’t have many faults out there, he always plays simple and can put it in, almost never has any turnovers - so he’s a guy who’s a really good player to look up to.”
A significant element in his consistent offensive production has been the outstanding chemistry Eriksson enjoys with Richards, who led the Stars in scoring with 91 points, falling just two points shy of Mike Modano’s Dallas record set back in 1993-94.
“He’s a fun guy to play with,” Eriksson said of Richards. “You always know where he is. He’s a good passing player and he can score, too, so it’s always good to play with him.”
“I’m very fortunate that I’ve had him on my line the last two years,” said Richards, who has skated alongside Eriksson pretty much since he was acquired from Tampa Bay in Feb. 2008. “Right from the first playoff round that we played together, it worked. That’s just the way it is. Who knows why? I never knew him. He didn’t even get my name right when I got traded here, but for some reason, it still works. He’s a great player. I think there’s a lot more out of him that you’ll see in the next few years.”
With second-year man James Neal patrolling their right wing for much of the season, the trio clicked as the Stars’ most dangerous forward combination.
“You know how skilled those two are, I just tried to fit in where I could,” said Neal, whose 27 goals trailed just Eriksson among the Stars. “They had chemistry from years before, so I just tried to do little things. Loui and I try to go to the net as much as possible and Brad’s always throwing pucks there. It’s a big part of how skilled he is - we just try and work around him.”
As the heads into his fifth NHL season, Eriksson, who was the Stars’ second-round selection (33rd overall) in the 2003 Entry Draft, figures to fill his role as catalyst at both ends of the ice for a long time, especially after signing a new six-year contract extension last October 2, just before the season started.
The deal, which is worth $25.5 million, works out to a bargain $4.25 million salary cap hit per year. It takes effect this summer and runs through the 2015-16 season, ensuring Eriksson will remain in Dallas for a long time.
“We are very pleased that we were able to agree to this long-term contract extension with Loui,” said Nieuwendyk. “He is a big part of our present and future and we feel his potential is just scratching the surface. The future is very bright for him and we’re excited that his future will be with the Dallas Stars.”