No one will ever forget Loui Eriksson’s great disappearing act of October, 2016.
It sure was a month Eriksson would like to forget.
Usually, players should be excited if they score during their first period of their first game, right after joining a new team. Eriksson’s first night as a Canuck was anything but.
He slyly made a pass back to an unaware Erik Gudbranson on a delayed penalty call, and watched the puck slide swiftly all the way down in his own net. It was an unfortunate and unfair start to the season for the $6-million Swedish winger.
It’s hard not to wonder if the forgettable first period affected Eriksson through the first month. After putting up 30 goals and over 60 points last season, Eriksson looked tentative, slow, and unsure of where to be on the ice. His supposed chemistry with the Sedins was nowhere to be found.
It wasn’t until Nov. 8 until Eriksson started making an appearance in the goal column. With the Canucks taking on the Rangers in New York that night, the odds were stacked against them. Losers of nine straight games made them the laughingstock of the league. Pundits were quick to point out that the Canucks truly were a 65-point team, despite the fact that Vancouver rocketed out to a 4-0 start.
Midway through the second period, Eriksson banged home a goal from the side of the net, his first of the season. After a 13-game stretch where he registered a measly four assists, Eriksson finally bumped his scoring slump.
After taking 14 games to score his first goal, Loui Eriksson now has 6 goals in his past 10 games and 4 in his last 5. #Canucks
— Canucks Now (@CanucksNow) November 30, 2016
Since netting his first of the season, Eriksson has gone on to score five goals and six points in his last 10 games. Willie Desjardins is likely breathing a sigh of relief, after Eriksson’s scoring touch came after an unsurprising demotion.
Third Line Antidote
Although many were skeptical about the Eriksson signing, pundits were quick to point out that the only reason the Canucks were going to be watchable was because of the fact that Eriksson was going to play with the Sedins.
Chalk up their first 10 games together in the “unwatchable” category. For whatever reason, the Swedish trio was unable to find any chemistry. After they showed the ability to be a world-class line at the World Cup of Hockey, their chemistry seemingly dissipated as soon as the puck dropped on the regular season.
With nothing working on the top line, Desjardins dropped Eriksson to the third line to play with Brandon Sutter and Markus Granlund. After Sutter was gifted a promotion playing alongside the Sedin twins, AHLer Michael Chaput took the assignment of centering Eriksson and Granlund.
Not to say that Chaput is the straw that stirs the drink on that line, but for whatever reason, Eriksson’s production has increased since he vacated his spot alongside the Sedins. He and Granlund seem to read off of each other well enough, and the duo is playing well for the Canucks when the game is close. According to Puckalytics, Eriksson and Granlund are #1 and #2 on the Canucks in terms of even-strength Corsi in close situations, at 54.3% and 51% respectively. Only four Canucks are above 50% in this category.
While Granlund hasn’t slowed Eriksson down, it’s more likely that Eriksson is just starting to find his game. He has shown the ability to create offence on his own, and the Canucks desperately need him to keep doing it if they want to have any shot at staying competitive.
Canucks Need More
It’s great news for the Canucks that Eriksson has finally started to turn it around, but the organization still needs to see more out of him. He’s recovered from his slow start to put up six goals and 11 points in 24 games.
At the 24-game mark of last season, Eriksson already had nine goals and 14 assists. He has shown that he can produce at an elite level and that he can drive play on his own. However, the puck is still going in his own net more than it should when he is on the ice.
Despite his shiny Corsi numbers, Eriksson has been on the ice for 12 goals against at even-strength in close situations. That’s second worst on the team, only behind Erik Gudbranson. His possession stats might show that he has been unlucky in this regard, but he has to find a way to limit the amount of goals against at even-strength.
You might believe that since Eriksson found his game without the Sedins, he should remain glued to his spot alongside Granlund. However, if the Canucks want to maximize Eriksson’s offensive potential, they need to play him with either Bo Horvat’s line or the Sedins.
With Horvat, Sven Baertschi, and Alex Burrows playing so well right now, it might be time to put Eriksson back with the Sedins. He set up Henrik Sedin for the Vancouver’s only goal on Thursday night against the Ducks, which was his first assist since Oct. 23.
At least with the Canucks trailing, or close in games heading into the third, Eriksson needs to play with offensive players. The sooner the Canucks do that, the sooner his contract doesn’t look like an unmovable albatross.