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Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Is Kindl following Ericsson’s footsteps

TRAVERSE CITY – Jonathan Ericsson is one part defenseman, one part seer. At least that’s how it look early last season to Jakub Kindl.

Ericsson and Kindl were both defensemen with the Grand Rapids Griffins and two of the Detroit Red Wings’ highest regarded prospects. Kindl was coming off a rookie season as a professional that wasn’t very good. Ericsson was coming off his second season as a pro … one during which he was named an American Hockey League all-star.

“You’re going to have the same kind of year I had last year,” Ericsson told Kindl. “I can see that in you.”

Ericsson was prophetic.

Teammates with the Griffins last winter, it was Kindl who played in the AHL all-star game, not Ericsson.

Ericsson’s career by no means went backwards. The big blue-liner got a late-season call-up from the Red Wings and never returned to the minors. He played 19 regular-season games, then 22 more in the playoffs. Ericsson was on the ice in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final and there’s not much more praise that an organization can give than that.

Now at Red Wings’ training camp together, Kindl is hoping to follow Ericsson’s path some more.

Ericsson is slated to be with the Red Wings at the start of the season. Kindl is likely heading to Grand Rapids as the ninth defenseman on the Detroit depth chart.

“I would rather and I think they would rather too that I play 20 minutes in Grand Rapids than be one of eight defensemen in the NHL and hardly play,” said Kindl.

That was the logic used in keeping Ericsson in Grand Rapids for three seasons. That’s likely Kindl’s fate for the better part of this season.

“He knows what it’s all about,” said Ericsson. “It took me a few seasons. I think he would like to follow the same steps that I did. He knows that they will be patient, give him time to be really ready when he gets the call.”

One difference between Kindl and Ericsson is this. Ericsson came to the Red Wings as the final pick of the entire NHL draft. Kindl was the 19th overall selection in the 2005 NHL draft.

That makes Kindl the Red Wings’ highest draft pick in the past 18 years. You have to go back to Martin Lapointe being taken 10th overall in 1991 to find a higher-drafted Red Wing.

“He certainly has a great chance,” said Jiri Fischer, the Red Wings’ director of player development, who was the 25th overall pick in 1998. “In our organization, everybody has to earn the chance, then everybody has to grab the chance. I think he’s on the right path, the way he’s been working and progressing. I’m hoping he’s going to have a good camp and good season as he did last year, as long as he keeps working.”

Kindl has always been an impact offensive defenseman. He generated offense as a youth in his native Czech Republic and in juniors with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.

His rookie season with Grand Rapids, however, Kindl found that defensive lapses meant something different in the pro game.

“In juniors, you can have a few turnovers and nothing happens,” said Kindl. “In pro, you do that it ends up in your own net.”

That changed in Kindl’s sophomore season.

“He made tremendous progress,” said Fischer. “Confidence wise I think he really established himself in the American Hockey League. For young defensemen, we look for steadiness, no turnovers, leadership. He’s very offensively gifted, very smart.”

Despite his tools and his all-star season, Kindl still hasn’t played in the NHL. That makes him one of six of the 30 first-rounders of 2005 – a draft that produced Sidney Crosby, Carey Price and Anze Kopitar — that hasn’t debuted in the NHL.

Kindl has watched players taken after him, like Andrew Cogliano of Edmonton, Matt Niskanen of Dallas and Marc-Edouard Vlasic of San Jose, all get significant opportunities. One difference, however, between those players and Kindl is that they’re not playing the NHL’s most successful organization.

“There were guys drafted behind me who have had a chance to play in the NHL,” said Kindl. “But none of them were lucky enough to wear a Red Wings uniform. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

The Red Wings signed Kindl for three seasons after this to a one-way contract, just as Ericsson got a one-way deal before last season. And just as Ericsson did at training camp last fall, Kindl skated as Nicklas Lidstrom’s partner during the first day of drills.

“Of course my dream was to make it to the NHL,” said Kindl. “It didn’t happen the first year or the second year. Now this is my third year as a pro. Jonathan Ericsson made the team finally after playing three years in Grand Rapids. Hopefully after him, it will be my chance. I have to be patient.”


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