BOSTON (CBS) – It must’ve felt like a cool breeze on a hot August day in Middleton on Monday.
Bruins forward Loui Eriksson and a few of his teammates came out of summer hibernation to support former teammate Shawn Thornton at his Putts and Punches golf tournament. In a meeting with the media, Eriksson reflected on his 2013-14 season with refreshing honesty instead of the typical baloney that comes from athletes coming off a rough season.
“I thought it would be easier to adjust to a different system with everything, but it took some time,” said Eriksson, who suffered two concussions and finished his first regular season with the Bruins with 10-27-37 totals in 61 games. “It was definitely hard. It wasn’t easy to [have] those concussions too. I thought after the Olympics I felt better, I learned the system a little bit better, even the playoffs felt really good. It’s definitely nice to play one season, and I’m really looking forward to the next.”
That Eriksson isn’t looking back at his solid second half and respectable playoff performance as some sort of redemption for his slow start is great news for the Bruins, who are going to need Eriksson to be so much better in 2014-15 than he was even once he was healthy and productive for a third liner last season.
It should be noted that despite his improved play, Eriksson had just five points (two goals) in 12 playoff games. That’s a little more than 0.40 points per game, which was less than his 0.61 points per game in the regular season. Eriksson found a comfortable home on his off wing with Carl Soderberg and Chris Kelly (before Kelly’s injury started a revolving door on the left side), but he didn’t exactly light the Eastern Conference on fire.
Injuries and a new environment clearly combined to make Eriksson a lesser player than he was with the Dallas Stars prior to the Tyler Seguin trade. However, you can’t overlook that the 29-year-old Eriksson has now gone through two lackluster seasons in a row. His last season with the Stars, he played in all 48 games during the lockout shortened year. His 0.60 points per game were a major drop from 0.87 the season before.
So now the Bruins are taking a guy who has barely produced like a third-line player and promoting him to the first line. That’s the theory anyway. I for one don’t believe Eriksson is a fit for the line that still features Milan Lucic and David Krejci after the departure of Jarome Iginla. Eriksson is a left-handed shot, he’s not an imposing physical presence and his tendency to play more of an East-West game tells me he and Krejci won’t blend right.
If there are no outside options available to the Bruins to fill Iginla’s slot, and it appears there aren’t as of now, I’d tend to lean toward Reilly Smith as a better fit. Although Smith is also a left-handed shot, he has more of a straight-ahead approach and a knack for getting to the front of the net. The Bruins might try Smith up on the top line in training camp, but as of a month ago general manager Peter Chiarelli expressed his desire to see Smith, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand stick together going forward.
One would think that sometime during training camp, or early in the regular season, the Bruins will be able to turn their surplus of veteran defensemen into at least a top-six forward via trade. For now though there’s a lot of weight on Eriksson going into his second camp with the Bruins.
He may not be able to regain his scoring touch of a couple years ago, or he might not be a perfect fit for the Lucic-Krejci combo, but Eriksson is clearly heading into the next season with the right mindset. Had he declined to speak about his 2013-14 struggles or just chalked up the drop in his play to injuries, there’d be reason to worry that this guy’s living in a fantasy land.
Eriksson, though, is clearly living in the real world, where he has to play like a first-liner regardless of where he’s going to skate on the depth chart.
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