The joke about Loui Eriksson was that he’s so perpetually named one of the NHL’s most underrated players that he was almost overrated for being underrated.
Next season, he gets the spotlight in Boston: Opening camp on the wing of David Krejci and Milan Lucic, where a 36-year-old Jarome Iginla notched 30 goals last season before cashing in with a 3-year, $16-million deal with the Colorado Avalanche.
“We lost Jarome, but I think Loui Eriksson is a player that can be even better than he was last year. I think we started seeing that at the end of the year and he could be a replacement for Jarome,” said coach Claude Julien, via NHL.com.
He’s topped 30 goals once in his career, although he’s been over 25 goals four times in eight seasons. He’s never been a point per game player, even in truncated seasons due to work stoppages or injuries.
But he’s been a top-liner before, playing with Brad Richards (back when he was Brad Richards) and then Jamie Benn with the Dallas Stars. He’s a perfect complementary player: Consistent offense and exceptional defense; and while with the Bruins, his possession numbers took a Herculean leap: 57.2-percent Fenwick at 5v5, after dropping under 50-percent in his last season in Dallas.
That’s of course a product of the way Claude Julien coaches, and Eriksson had a bumpy first year learning that system. His concussion limited him to 61 games, and the emergence of Reilly Smith on the second line in his absence knocked him down the lineup.
He knows the Bruins didn’t flip Tyler Seguin for him to be a third-liner, so he’ll get that first-line shot this fall.
But face it: Eriksson is Plan B for the B’s. They wanted Iginla back for next season. He wanted more term, and the money wouldn’t work for the following seasons. So he takes his 30 goals to huff-and-puff chasing MacKinnon and Duchene down the ice in Denver, and Eriksson gets the top-line bump.
The question then becomes one of chemistry: Can Eriksson find it with David Krejci and Milan Lucic?
Peter Chiarelli was optimistic when asked earlier this month, via NESN: “It would be nice to get a right shot — that would be a priority at some point — but I have no problem with (Eriksson) playing on that top line, and I’ve talked to (Krejci) about it, and he welcomes it. If you watch how Loui plays, he plays a real give-and-go game, and he’s very smart, passes to areas … He’s very compatible with (Krejci).”