Under Mike Gillis the Canucks have made a commitment to both professional and amateur scouting that has yielded the talents of Alexander Sulzer, Kellan Tochkin and Eddie Lack, to name a few, all without making a trade or using a draft pick. The ability to identify overlooked talent and acquire it without losing any assets is vastly important in the salary cap system.
Following the lost season the NHL re-emerged with a few key rule changes that have produced a faster, more fluid game. With a crack down on obstruction smaller players with high skill level began to flourish on the open ice. The abolition of the two-line pass put further emphasis on the break-out. Teams began to see the puck-moving benefits of defenseman once thought too small to clear the crease; something they could no longer do without being penalized anyway. Ever since the likes of John-Michael Liles, Brian Rafalski and Brian Campbell have excelled and NHL talent scouts have looked high and low for the next diminutive defenseman.
Sebastian Erixon went undrafted despite starring on the 2009 World Junior Challenge silver medal winning Swedish team, a group which featured star goaltender Jacob Markstrom and four soon-to-be NHL defenseman: Tim Erixon, David Runblad, Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson. The Swede’s allowed just three goals in four round robin games and lost the final game to host-team Canada in the Canadian capital city of Ottawa.
After the WJC Erixon returned to Sweden to finish his first full season with Timra of the Elitserien, the same team his father Staffan had starred for in the early 80’s. Sebastian would total seven points in both his first and second seasons with Timra but broke out in a big way last year scoring 20 to lead his team in points by a defenseman. It didn’t take long for Canucks Associate Head Scout Thomas Gradin to take notice and soon Sebastian signed with the Canucks.
“It was a big year for me, leading d-men on our team.” Sebastian says of his break-out 2010-11 season. “Then the Canucks told me they had a contract and I signed, so, it was a fun year.”
The younger Erixon is considered small by NHL standards (listed at 5’10” on hockeydb.com) but uses a high hockey IQ to his advantage.
“I think I can carry the puck pretty good and make a good first pass.” He answers when asked to describe his game. “I see the ice pretty good.”Sebastian’s coach with the AHL Chicago Wolves agrees. In his first year as head coach with the Canuck’s farm team Mac-T has been impressed by the young Swedish blue liner heaping praises on him in an interview with Gordon McIntyre of The Province saying: “He’s got incredible composure out there. Even walk by him in the room and he’s totally at ease. I don’t think he rushes anything.”
The level of admiration between player and coach is mutual says Sebastian.
“He had a long career and he knows what to do. He’s a good coach.”
MacTavish will be charged with the duty of transitioning Erixon to the North American game but he isn’t the only one with helpful advice. Sebastian can rely on the years of experience his father Staffan accrued as a pro hockey player in Sweden.
“He knows what I need to do.” Sebastian says of his father.
Former Timra teammate Anton Lander is in his rookie season with Canucks division rival Edmonton and the two have stayed in touch this season.
“We know each other from when we were little kids.” Sebastian says. “He says it’s pretty tough.
He says The Speed is a little bit higher; you need to make the right choice all the time.”
Sebastian can also draw on the experiences of defense partner Adam Polasek, a young Czech blue liner who, like Sebastian, is in his first year with the Wolves. Polasek played two years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and is very comfortable on the smaller ice surfaces of North America.
“He’s a good d-man, good with the puck and makes it easy for me.” He says of Polasek.
Playing in the pre-season Young Stars tournament in Penticton and attending his first NHL training camp helped introduce Erixon to pro hockey in Canada. He’s now played eight games in the second best professional league in North America in a major American city.
“I feel more and more comfortable.” He says. “The first game was pretty tough.”