I am a bit of an old dog, having covered this team since 1993, so I get a bit jaded at times.
But Loui Eriksson has taught me a major lesson in the last couple of years about judging.
I was doubtful of Loui Eriksson's potential in 2006-07 and downright ready to give up on him at the start of the 2007-08 season. He just seemed timid and not that skilled. He often bobbled the puck. He was afraid to shoot. He waited way too long before making decisions. I didn't really even see the defensive potential that others talked about.
But Eriksson is a great sign of just what a nurturing environment can provide.
Les Jackson was sold on Eriksson from the start. He felt the Stars got a steal in 2003 when they took him 33rd overall, and he continued to believe that Eriksson had as much talent as any player taken in that draft.
When Jackson took over as co-GM in November of 2007, he had a discussion with Dave Tippett and asked that Eriksson's role in the offense be increased. He said the short-term pain would be worth the long-term gain. And he was right. Eriksson started to gain confidence, and started to trust his shot and realize that shooting the puck was a big part of his job. His numbers immediately increased, as Eriksson had 14 goals and 17 assists in 69 games on the season.
Just as important, he had four goals and four assists in 18 playoff games, and showed he could be a key player whether playing on a line with Mike Ribeiro, Brad Richards or Toby Petersen.
Last season, Eriksson became led the team in goal-scoring with 36. He finished with 63 points in 82 games and led the team in plus-minus at plus-14.
Clearly, he broke through as a player who can be a game-changer. Now, at age 24, he looks like he can inherit the role of Jere Lehtinen as top defensive forward and top goal-scorer.
The biggest question surrounding Eriksson is where he should play. He's left-handed and more comfortable as a left wing, but he played right wing last season, and showed he can be successful in that role. While he probably will try to continue to establish chemistry with Richards, he also played pretty well with Ribeiro. My guess is Jere Lehtinen will play on Ribeiro's right side, because Ribeiro likes the right-handed shot, but it will be interesting to see if Eriksson is moved around a lot to try to spark other lines.
It will also be interesting to see what happens to Eriksson if Lehtinen gets hurt.
The second interesting issue for Marc Crawford will be how he wants to use Eriksson on the power play. Eriksson finished with just seven goals and 12 points on the power play last season _ a very low percentage of his total scoring _ and many wanted to see him out there more. However, he averaged 3:00 a game on the power play, and was still learning how to make those minutes productive. He will probably get the chance to expand on that this season.
Bottom line is that Eriksson is becoming a player who is noticed around the league. He will probably get a chance to play on Team Sweden at the Olympics. The biggest question now is how much he makes next season when he can become a restricted free agent. One of Joe Nieuwendyk's biggest tasks will be to discuss that issue throughout the summer and season. So do you still need more information on Eriksson or do you strike now before he goes off and scores 40 or 50 goals next season?