When will Jonathan Ericsson get his full-time shot at the NHL?
That’s the big question surrounding Ericsson, a 6-foot-5, 218-pound blueline stud who would probably already have a full-time job on most NHL teams. Instead, it’s possible he will spend a third season in the American Hockey League with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2008-09 because of his waiver-exempt status.
There aren’t many jobs up for grabs in Detroit, with five of eight regular defenseman under contract for two more seasons. The Red Wings also plan on re-signing at least two of the other three — Brad Stuart, Chris Chelios and Andreas Lilja — and when you throw Kyle Quincey into the mix, it clouds the picture.
Quincey, a prospect entering his fourth pro season, is no longer waiver-exempt, meaning the Red Wings risk losing him if they send him down.
That potentially leaves Ericsson as the odd man out.
“You get to the point where you could lose a guy then,” Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “It’s much like Derek Meech. You’d rather have him playing all the time, but you can’t, so you make the best of the situation.”
Ericsson has 10 goals and 21 assists for 31 points in 78 games along with a plus-3 rating with the Griffins. He averaged 15:27 of ice time, including ample time on both special-team units, in a seven-game call-up to Detroit.
Quincey, who was called up before Ericsson, averaged 13:58 including heavy penalty-killing time, but was sent back to Grand Rapids first.
Another season the minors probably wouldn’t hurt Ericsson. He still has work to do, although his rapid rate of progression is an indication he would likely rise to the occasion if the Red Wings threw him into their day-to-day lineup.
“It’s a consistency thing, being consistent every night, but he has definitely turned himself into an NHL caliber defenseman,” Nill said.
Here are some other tidbits from the past week.
* The Red Wings took a long look at signing free agent goalie Pier-Olivier Pelletier in training camp, but decided to let him return to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for one more season to prove his worth. Unfortunately for Pelletier, it hasn’t worked out. The 20-year-old struggled behind a powerful Halifax Mooseheads club and is now backup up 19-year-old Mark Yetman in the playoffs. It’s highly unlikely Pelletier will earn contract at this stage, especially with Swedish prospect Daniel Larsson’s rapid development.
* Defenseman Brendan Smith (Wisconsin, NCAA) had missed almost three months with a bulging disc in his back when returned to action on Sunday in a 3-2 overtime loss to North Dakota in the Midwest Regional Final. Smith skated as a forward on the fourth line in his first action since Jan. 11 as Wisconsin just missed a shot at the NCAA’s Frozen Four.
* Forward Cory Emmerton (Brampton, Ontario Hockey League) signed an amateur tryout contract with the Griffins this week after his disappointing junior season came to a close. Emmerton had just two assists in five games as the favored Battalion fell 4-1 to the Barrie Colts. Emmerton told the Battalion’s official website he “wasn’t 100 percent” when he returned from mononucleosis at mid-season, but added he’s eager for the chance to finish the season in the AHL. He registered an assist in his first pro game of the season on Sunday.
* Defenseman Logan Pyett (Regina, Western Hockey League) had a goal and three assists in six games, but saw his team fall 4-2 to Swift Current in the first round of the playoffs. Pyett is likely to sign with Detroit in the off-season.
* Forward Darren Helm (Grand Rapids, AHL) is fast-tracking his way to a full-time spot with the Red Wings with his recent play. He has been brilliant in March, with seven goals and five assists in a nine-game span. He’s averaging close to three shots per game overall, impressive for a rookie.
* Forward Zack Torquato (Grand Rapids, AHL) has already played seven pro games and netted his first goal on Sunday. It’s a good experience for Torquato, who could bust out offensively in 2008-09 in the junior ranks.
* Goaltender Jimmy Howard (Grand Rapids, AHL) will be glad to be done with the month of March after posting a 2-6 record, a 3.56 goals-against average and a .886 save percentage during an important stretch. He did pick up the Griffins’ man-of-the-year award for outstanding community involvement.
* Forward Igor Grigorenko (Salavat Yulaev, Russian Elite League) and his squad have advanced to the championship series against Alexei Yashin-led Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, but Grigorenko’s been out with an undisclosed injury for the past two weeks and it’s unclear when he’ll return.
* Forward Justin Abdelkader (Michigan State, NCAA) likely saw his college career come to an end this week as he and the defending national champion Spartans lost 3-1 to Notre Dame in the West Regional final on Saturday. He is expected to turn pro next season and may sign an amateur tryout contract with Grand Rapids this week. Abelkader won CCHA awards for best defensive forward and humanitarian of the year and earned honorable mention for the all-conference team. He was tied for 26th in the nation in scoring with 40 points in 42 games. He also piled up a whopping 107 penalty minutes.
* Forward Anton Axelsson (Timra, Swedish Elite League) has two goals and an assist in nine games and has helped his team to the semifinals.