The Canucks have started the season with a solid 6-3-1 record, putting them right in the thick of things in the Pacific Division. Most impressively, they’ve gotten off to this start without their highest-paid forward.
Okay, maybe impressive isn’t the word. The Canucks’ highest-paid forward is Loui Eriksson, whose time in Vancouver has been marked by disappointment and a gradually-diminishing role on the team.
When Eriksson was signed, the expectation was that he would help revitalize the Sedin twins. After all, he had proven chemistry with the Sedins from international tournaments on Team Sweden. Unfortunately, what the Sedins needed most at that time of their career was a speedy forechecker, which does not describe Eriksson at all.
So, Eriksson went from the first line, to various second lines, to the third line, until last season, when he spent a good chunk of the year alongside Jay Beagle and Tyler Motte on the fourth line. Even last season, he started the year with an opportunity on a scoring line with Elias Pettersson and Nikolay Goldobin, but found himself in a bottom-six role by season’s end.
This season, his role has diminished even further, as he’s been a healthy scratch for nine-straight games.
Eriksson was in the opening night lineup against the Edmonton Oilers, but after losing the game, Canucks head coach Travis Green switched things up. Adam Gaudette was swapped in for their next game against the Calgary Flames, then, when Gaudette was taken out of the lineup, Tyler Motte was ready to return from his injury.
That was the first time in his entire career that Eriksson was a healthy scratch for an extended period of time. Even in his rookie season, Eriksson was a staple in the Dallas Stars lineup after he was called up from the AHL. It can’t have been an easy adjustment for the 14-year NHL veteran.
“Of course, it’s not fun to sit there and watch the game,” said Eriksson after the team’s morning skate on Monday. “The team has been playing really well, so that’s really good to see. It’s tough to change the lineup when the team is doing so good. All I can do is try to be in shape and work hard in practice.”
With Motte out of the lineup with a broken foot from blocking a shot on Saturday, Eriksson is getting a chance to put that hard work in practice to the test. Eriksson is back in the lineup for the Canucks' Monday night game against the Florida Panthers.
According to Green, Eriksson handled his long stint in the press box as well as could be expected.
“[His attitude’s] been good. He’s been a consummate pro,” said Green. “I think sometimes with young guys if they don’t play for a while, it can affect them a lot more than an older guy, a guy that’s been around. You know as a coach that he’s going to give you his best when he gets in.”
What might Eriksson’s best entail? That’s the real question.
As much as Eriksson’s tenure as a Canuck has been disappointing and he hasn’t lived up to the expectations created by his contract, he has still been a useful forward. He can play in a matchup role on a checking line and is one of the Canucks’ best penalty killers. That wasn’t, however, enough to keep him in the lineup to start this season.
If Eriksson plays a defensively-responsible game on the fourth line and contributes on the penalty kill, is that enough? Will the time in the press box result in a more-motivated Eriksson that plays with a little more fire?
That might determine whether this is just a one-game stint in the lineup or if he gets a longer look. After all, Adam Gaudette got called back up after two games in the AHL and it will be all-too easy to take Eriksson out of the lineup again to get Gaudette back in.