Saturday, 09.15.2007 / 4:00 PM CT / Feature
By John Tranchina
Stars looking for Eriksson to take the next step this year
One player who the Dallas Stars will be counting on to make more of a contribution this coming season is winger Loui Eriksson.
After a solid rookie season in 2006-07 in which he was initially recalled from the Stars’ American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa as an injury replacement and then performed well enough to stay the rest of the season, Eriksson is considered a key to the Stars’ fortunes this year.
The 22-year-old native of Goteborg, Sweden will begin his third season in North America with a roster spot already in his possession for the first time. The challenge now is for him to become more of an impact player and more of a consistent offensive threat.
“We’re not just hoping he’ll be good, we need him to be good,” said Stars coach Dave Tippett. “His rookie season’s over with, he’s coming in now and we expect big things from him. We told him this summer that it’s not just about coming in and making this team, ‘You have to come in and contribute.’”
Eriksson, who just arrived back in the Metroplex on Tuesday and was already on the ice at the Dr Pepper StarCenter practice facility in Frisco Wednesday, shares those sentiments and believes he is ready to take the next step in his development.
“It’s going to be almost my second year now in the NHL here, and I want to be stronger in everything, on the ice, in the games, in everything,” Eriksson said. “I have to be focusing a lot on the games, staying the whole season here, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready, it’s good to be back.”
The skilled winger reported that he spent the off-season training back in Sweden, specifically working on bulking up his 6-foot-1, 183-pound frame, in order to help him better navigate through the tougher areas around the net where many goals are scored from.
“Just been practicing a lot, put on some weight this year, too, so I feel good, my whole body,” Eriksson said of his summer program. “It’s been a good summer. I put on some weight, and just be stronger in front of the net. I will have more confidence, too, going in the game, just playing my game. I’ve been practicing a lot this summer, putting on some weight and strength, so I feel good.”
Eriksson, the Stars’ second-round selection (number 33 overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, enjoyed an impressive first year in the AHL in 2005-06, leading the Iowa Stars with 31 goals and finishing second on the team with 60 points. Because of that success, the Stars were hoping he would make the team out of training camp last year.
He did have a good showing in camp and made his NHL debut on opening night, even scoring his first goal, but he was re-assigned to Iowa the next day when newly-acquired center Mike Ribeiro arrived in town.
Back in Iowa, Eriksson scored five goals and eight points in 15 games before getting the call back to Dallas after injuries hit the big club in mid-November. The fact that he remained in Dallas the rest of the season when he was originally intended to be just an emergency call-up shows how Eriksson took advantage of his opportunity.
“He just keeps getting better,” said winger Junior Lessard, Eriksson’s teammate in Iowa the last two years, another player management expects to contend for a spot this year. “I think he struggled a little bit when he got to North America, and he just keeps getting better, but you knew he would be a good player, he’s got so much skills, got great hands, and he works hard, too, you’ve got to give him that.”
Eriksson skated in 59 total games, and while he was inconsistent at times like most rookies tend to be, he also displayed flashes of excellence. Down the stretch, Eriksson seemed to raise his level of play, registering two goals and five points in his last six games to finish the year with six goals and 19 points overall. He averaged 13:10 of ice time per contest.
In the Stars’ first-round playoff series against Vancouver, Eriksson had an assist and four shots on goal in 27:45 of ice time in the four-overtime Game 1, but then sat as a healthy scratch for Games 2-4. He returned to the lineup in Game 5 and delivered a spirited, high-energy performance the remainder of the series, helping the Stars extend it to seven.
Following the disappointment of losing in Game 7, Eriksson had to quickly re-focus his energies after he was sent back to Iowa, along with fellow rookie winger Joel Lundqvist and defenseman Niklas Grossman, for their post-season.
Eriksson regrouped to contribute two goals and seven points in nine games while helping the Iowa Stars advance to the second round of the AHL playoffs. Viewing that time as a positive learning experience, Eriksson was glad to have the chance to continue the growth process.
“I think it’s good for us,” said Eriksson, who trailed just Lundqvist and Lessard on the Iowa post-season points list. “We have to get some experience for the playoffs and everything, so it’s good for us, me and Lundqvist and Grossman. It was really good.”
“He came back with us in the playoffs and he was one of the best players,” added Lessard. “Him and Lundqvist played really well for us, gave us so much more depth. But he came down with a good attitude. He didn’t come down like he didn’t belong with us, he came down and worked hard, and he got better.”
Because the Stars trust that young players like Eriksson and Lundqvist will continue their progress this year, they made few additions to the roster that finished last season. Now it is up to them to justify the faith that management put in them by taking that next step in their development.
“There’s going to be opportunities for some of our younger players, like Lundqvist and Eriksson, to express themselves with a greater role on our team,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. “We’re looking for growth in those players.”
Tippett feels like Eriksson is ready to deliver on the lofty expectations that his strong rookie season has engendered.
“His mindset is very good right now,” Tippett noted. “He’s in great shape, so he’ll get the opportunity to go and we need him to be a very good player for us.”