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If the Boston Bruins are as committed to a third line featuring Ryan Spooner
in between Brett Connolly
and Jimmy Hayes
as they seem (it’s been a consistent line throughout camp and was once a line in the B’s game with the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden last night), it means that winger Loui Eriksson
is set for a top-six role with the club.
Specifically as the right-winger of Boston’s second line (or 1B line, really) with all-world centerman Patrice Bergeron
and winger Brad Marchand
. This was the goal when the Bruins first acquired Eriksson from the Dallas Stars in the July 2013 trade that saw the Bruins depart with a former fixture on the right-side of the Bergeron line for two seasons in forward Tyler Seguin
But as concussions and inconsistencies by all means derailed Eriksson’s first season in Boston down to a third-line role -- Eriksson finished the year with 10 goals and 37 points in 61 regular-season contests -- Eriksson’s second season in the Hub put him on the third line … but with second-line-esque production.
On a line with Carl Soderberg
and Chris Kelly
for almost the entire season, the 30-year-old Eriksson finished the year with the third-most goals on the team (22) and was second in points (47). It was interesting to see the discussion flip at a certain point, too, as it was originally believed that Eriksson needed Soderberg in order to produce but over time, it was apparent that Soderberg needed Eriksson’s stronger possession game in order to feast on third-pairings at will.
And now Eriksson is moving to the possession line supreme with Bergeron and Marchand.
Eriksson is just another step in a revolving door of linemates that began with Mark Recchi
, continued on with Seguin, and then to Reilly Smith
. It’s brought success to all that have skated to Bergeron’s right and Marchand’s off-wing, but Eriksson isn’t trying to change too much.
“I just try to create chances and play good. We know we’re going to play against probably the best line on the other team when we go out there, so it’s just being good in position and try to play better than the line you play,” Eriksson said of his new linemates. “Of course, they’ve been playing for a while together and they’ve been doing a good job. So I’m just going in there and trying to help them.”
The chemistry is an obvious work in progress, and will continue to be on into the regular season, but an area where this trio needs no help is pushing play up out of their zone, through the neutral zone, and into the attacking zone. In fact, it was one of their strong points in Monday’s preseason loss to Detroit.
Marchand remains perhaps the B’s best pace-driver up ice, and was typically uncontested by an opposing defender all game long, while he was also able to find Eriksson in space throughout the night.
“I think it’s coming along, we’re trying to work on it everyday,” said Marchand. “It might take a little bit of time but it’s a lot better than last time we tried it. I feel a lot more comfortable with Loui out there; and he’s making good plays and he’s a really good player, so I think we’re going to be a good line.”
Eriksson would go on to score Boston’s only goal of the night, and though it came on the power play, the B’s know the importance of finding chemistry -- any chemistry, really -- early.
“It’s just more pressure in the middle of the year than preseason. It’s more of a time to get the kinks out and kind of work on things like that,” Marchand noted. “It’s expected that that’s what you’re going to do in training camp. Each team has new guys coming in, new faces, so you need that time to adjust and to learn how each other play, and that’s what preseason is for.”
A return to the top-six seems overdue for Eriksson, who was a top-six talent for almost his entire career with the Stars before the Bruins pigeonholed him into a third-line spot on his off-wing. He might not have the breakaway speed that a player like Seguin or Smith had on the right-side of the Bergeron line, but there’s no doubt that Eriksson is the line’s smartest winger since Recchi in 2011, and that Eriksson’s deliberate approach towards the puck and net will be a major factor. It could be enough to propel Eriksson, a four-time 60-point plus performer, to his first such season since 2012.
Of course, that could come back down to head coach Claude Julien
’s patience to let this line gel. Although they’ve been together for much of camp, a slow start could force Julien, who could very well be coaching for his job this season, to look for quick fixes and throw Eriksson back into a hellish blender that crushes the hopes of legitimate chemistry developing with any center or line.
That would be far from the best case scenario for the strong Swedish winger, too, as Eriksson begins this season in the final year of a contract that comes with a modest $4.25 million cap-hit.
Ty Anderson has been covering the Boston Bruins for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, is a member of the Pro Hockey Writers Association's Boston Chapter, and can be contacted on Twitter, or emailed at Ty.AndersonHB[at]gmail.com