Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Meet the smart, stealth Loui Eriksson
By Scott Burnside
We're not suggesting Dallas Stars winger Loui Eriksson is spooky as in creepy or ghoul-like.
But there is a kind of ghost-like quality to the soft-spoken Swedish player, who has quietly become one of the top wingers in the National Hockey League.
Think top Swedish stars, players with big games and big names, and you start with Nicklas Lidstrom and move on to Henrik Lundqvist and the Sedin twins in Vancouver, Henrik and Daniel, the past two scoring champions. And then there's Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson.
They are among the game's finest players, and though they may not be the most gregarious group, collectively they are among the most respected players around the hockey world and are revered in their country as superstars. As it should be.
Not so much.
The 26-year-old native of Goteborg seems to blush when asked if he is recognized at home in Sweden, where he spends his offseason.
"Not really. Maybe a little bit more lately. But no, it's not much of that. I kind of like it that way, too. You can walk around, no one really recognizes you. It's kind of nice to have your private life," Eriksson told ESPN.com.
He likewise insists it doesn't bother him that folks don't automatically look to write his name onto an All-Star ballot or rise up angrily when his name isn't mentioned as being a rare talent.
"Not really. That's how it's always been, Eriksson said. "I don't know why it's like that. It seems like it works for me. Of course you want to get better every year and it feels like I'm in pretty good shape right now. The whole team's playing real well and, of course, our whole line's been playing real well, too."
To understand Eriksson's true value, though, is to talk to those who see him most often, who know him best and see the little things that are so valued in an NHL locker room.
"I was the same way," rookie head coach Glen Gulutzan said when asked about Eriksson's lack of profile given his skill set.
"I watched 20 games on TV last year, and before I got hired, I probably went through 25 games. You can't appreciate Loui until you have him.
Just how cerebral he is. Just the little things he does on a daily basis. Loui's not a big, heavy guy but yet he goes in the corner, and Loui's always coming out with the puck. We're trying to learn from him."
As of this writing, Eriksson has 17 points in 17 games, including nine goals, tied for ninth best total in the NHL. In his three previous seasons Eriksson delivered goal totals of 36, 29 and 27.
Quietly consistent, he has a black ops kind of game, deceptive, deadly.
"It's just the subtleties of the game," Gulutzan said. "And the best way I can describe him is he is a 'hockey' player. He understands the game; he understands how to get pucks and put them in places. When you have that cerebral of a guy, and then you add [Jamie] Benn who has a little bit more power, then you've got a pretty good line."
Teammate Vernon Fiddler saw a lot of Eriksson playing for Pacific Division rival Phoenix for the past couple of years.
"He's a guy that's definitely on the radar when you're playing against him," Fiddler said. "Now that I've played with him, you don't realize how good he is until you actually play with him and practice with him.
"He's very calm with the puck. He's always on the puck. I've never probably seen another winger that responsible. He makes players around him way better."
If there was a catalyst to Eriksson's emergence, stealth though it may have been, it was the arrival of former playoff MVP Brad Richards, who played alongside Eriksson for much of the time he played in Dallas.
"I think he grew a lot with Richie being here; his confidence and I think the personality he had is always going to be quiet and very humble, but I think he's confident in his game right now, and he's earned it over the last couple of years," captain Brenden Morrow said.
"League-wide he's maybe underrated a hair, but we've kind of all known what he's been able to do and how good he is. We wanted to keep it a secret for a while, but we got him locked down for a few years contract-wise so we can talk about it now," Morrow joked. "The puck just kind of sticks to him. He's strong; he's not an overly big guy, but he wins battles in the corners, and he's lanky and puck just follows him around."
Richards, traded to the Stars from Tampa at the '08 trade deadline, signed in New York with the Rangers in the offseason but had high praise for Eriksson.
"He's definitely one of the top five all-around wingers in the league right now," Richards told ESPN.com this week.
"If people saw him play every day, they'd know that."
Richards took his estimation of Eriksson's value a step further, saying that of all the players he's played with, Eriksson and former Hart Trophy and Art Ross winner Martin St. Louis are the smartest.
He does 100 little things right every night -- not just one amazing thing that people take note of, Richards said.
"You just can't teach people to read the game offensively and defensively the way Loui does. It's a natural thing that he's got," Richards said.
Eriksson, the 33rd overall pick in the 2003 entry draft, is, not surprisingly, thankful for the mentoring he received at Richards' hands.
"For sure, he helped me a lot there when he came to the club," Eriksson said. "We started playing together right away. We had really good chemistry.
He's been in the league for more years than me, and he tried to help me in a couple of things out there on the ice and off the ice, too. He helped me a lot."
And there is no doubt there's been great maturity on and off the ice for Eriksson.
|Loui Eriksson's teammates marvel at his ability to stay so calm with the puck. |
Eriksson turned 26 this past July. He is married and has a daughter a little more than 2 years old and another on the way.
"It's a lot of change when you get a kid," Eriksson said. "It's something you wish the best for her all the time. It doesn't matter if you're playing good or playing bad; every time you come home she comes up with a smile. It's always nice to get home and see that."
So she doesn't mind if he's minus-4 and missed an open net in overtime?
Eriksson grins. No.
"Maybe in a couple of years she might start saying that, right but right now she's awesome," he said.
Away from the rink, Eriksson already has pledged to donate all revenues from endorsement deals to a new foundation his wife will help administer. The money generated in North America will go to charitable works in the Dallas area, and any Swedish-based revenues will go to charities in the Goteborg area.
As Eriksson takes part in a different phase of the cycle of life, he is likewise involved in a different phase of the cycle of hockey.
Said GM Joe Nieuwendyk, Eriksson realizes he's at that stage of his career that he's completely comfortable taking on a new, bigger role with the Stars.
"He's been around. He knows what's expected of him," Nieuwendyk said.
And as he learned from Richards, Eriksson's experience is now part of the evolution of linemate Jamie Benn.
The 22-year-old had 22 goals last season, and his potential was part of the reason Nieuwendyk felt comfortable dealing power winger James Neal to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline last season.
Benn has five goals and 14 points and was plus-7 as of Monday.
"A lot of that is Loui," Fiddler said.
Like a lot of things around the Stars franchise these days.
|Most stars clamor for a life of privacy. Loui Eriksson doesn't have to worry about that. |
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.