Loui Eriksson had an up-and-down first season with the Bruins. (AP)
Bruins fans should prepare for Loui Eriksson on the first line next season.
Speaking to the media for the first time this summer, Claude Julien reiterated on Thursday’s conference call what’s already been said by Peter Chiarelli this summer: The team is confident that Eriksson is a viable replacement for the departed Jarome Iginla to skate alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic.
“We don’t feel like were in a real tough situation,” Julien said. “We’ve lost Jarome, but as you’ve probably heard, 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 as a possibility.”
One issue with Eriksson playing on that line that has come up numerous times is the fact that he’s a left shot and that Krejci hasn’t had a left shot on the right wing in recent years, as Iginla, Nathan Horton, Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin were all righties. Maybe that won’t be a problem for him at all, and maybe there will be some adjustment.
It is worth noting that Eriksson played on that line late in the regular season when the Bruins gave Iginla some time off to get him sharp for the playoffs. Amidst that stretch came Eriksson’s best offensive performance of the season, as he registered four assists (three of which were on goals by Lucic or Krejci) and had a season-high seven shots on goal.
In his time with Dallas, Eriksson was a first-liner, and the expectation when he came to Boston was that he would be the perfect second-line right wing to a team with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Those three never formed chemistry, and the struggles of Marchand and the two concussions for Eriksson meant that trio wouldn’t stick. He returned from his second concussion as a third-liner and teamed wonderfully with Carl Soderberg to provide the Bruins with their strongest third line since the Peverley-Chris Kelly-Michael Ryder days of 2011.
If the roster remains the way it is now, the Bruins should absolutely weaken their third line and put Eriksson on the top line. The roster isn’t going to remain the way it is, however, as the team should trade at least one of what Chiarelli considers to be nine NHL defensemen.
Unless the defenseman traded is Johnny Boychuk, the Bruins probably won’t be getting a sure-fire first-line right wing back. If they trade a lesser commodity like David Warsofsky or Matt Bartkowski, it’s more realistic to expect a third-line candidate in return.
Barring a trade for a first-line right wing, that Krejci line will be different than years past no matter what. Since Krejci became the team’s first-line center in the 2010-11 season, he has had bookend power forwards on his line, with Lucic to his left and Horton or Iginla on his right. Eriksson is far from a power forward, and the Bruins don’t have anyone on their roster who can bring the sandpaper to the right wing the way Horton and Iginla did.
There are pros to having Eriksson there, however. He may not be as tiring to play against as Iginla, but he’s younger, faster and depends well. And it isn’t like he can’t score; last season was the first time in a full season that he hasn’t scored at least 26 goals since 2007-08. He was a 36-goal scorer once upon a time, hitting that mark in the 2008-09 season.
Last offseason, Eriksson’s place in the Bruins’ lineup seemed obvious, but that changed. Perhaps the expectations held now can change as well, but for now it appears that Eriksson is a good bet to be a first-liner.