The Boston Bruins need a first-line right winger after the free-agent departure of Jarome Iginla, and the search for his replacement should not extend beyond the team’s NHL roster.
Veteran winger Loui Eriksson — the best player Boston acquired in last year’s Tyler Seguin trade — would be a tremendous fit on the Bruins’ top line alongside center David Krejci and left winger Milan Lucic.
“I’m really comfortable with that. It’s a different look, but (Eriksson) is a very smart player,” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said July 1 when asked about the idea of Eriksson slotting into the vacant first line spot.
“He’s a great two-way player. He plays a very smart game. I saw him play with the Sedins — he can play at that level. He can play on the matchup, so… But having said that, he can move down the lineup and he’s comfortable with it. So I mean, the options are there. It would be nice to get a right shot — that would be a priority at some point — but I have no problem with (Eriksson) playing on that top line, and I’ve talked to (Krejci) about it, and he welcomes it. If you watch how Loui plays, he plays a real give-and-go game, and he’s very smart, passes to areas … He’s very compatible with (Krejci).”
Iginla’s 30 goals won’t be easy to replace, but Eriksson has the goal-scoring ability and pedigree to generate offense with Krejci and Lucic. Prior to his arrival in Boston, the 28-year-old winger averaged 29.5 goals in his last four non-lockout seasons with the Dallas Stars, including three consecutive 70-point seasons from 2009-10 through 2011-12. Those are impressive numbers when you consider that Eriksson wasn’t playing with a center of Krejci’s caliber during that span.
Eriksson showed flashes of being a first-line player last season, but it was difficult for him to maintain any consistency because of two concussions he suffered. Those injuries forced him to miss 21 games — he missed a total of just three games in his previous five seasons combined.
After playing well for a Sweden team that won silver at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Eriksson returned to Boston as a more confident player and his production increased. He finished the regular season with 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in his last 24 games.
In fact, Eriksson’s best game of the season — a four-point performance against the Philadelphia Flyers on April 5 — came when he played on the top line with Krejci and Lucic.
From a puck-possession standpoint, Eriksson was exceptional last season. The Swedish winger finished fourth on the team with a 58.4 corsi-for percentage and the Bruins averaged 4.8 percent more shots when he was on the ice. Eriksson’s defensive ability, willingness to battle for loose pucks in all three zones and high hockey IQ result in the Bruins controlling the majority of possession when he hops over the boards, which is a favorable situation for a playmaking center such as Krejci.
As a quality goal scorer who provides a two-way skill set, Eriksson should make a smooth transition to the first line. He’s got a year of experience in Claude Julien’s defensive-minded system and started to hit his stride in the second half of last season and in the playoffs.
Moving Eriksson up to Line 1 also would allow a young player such as Ryan Spooner, Matt Fraser or 2014 first-round pick David Pastrnak to play on the third line, which is the best-case scenario for the B’s.
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