by Patrick Williams
New NHL, new rules, new brand of hockey.
This was supposed to be season in which players like John Erskine were tossed to the pro hockey scrap heap.
After all, what place would there be for a slow-footed, physical defenseman who had bounced up and down between the NHL and AHL and at age 25 was still a borderline NHL player?
Instead, Erskine has found a new NHL life in a new organization and could now reasonably be considered to be entrenched in the NHL after spending parts of six seasons in the AHL, including three games this season with the Iowa Stars. After never having logged more than 33 NHL games in one season, Erskine now has 35 NHL games to his name this season, nine of them with the New York Islanders after being swapped for Janne Niinimaa on Jan. 10.
After all, the Islanders dispatched three players — Robert Nilsson, Wyatt Smith and Joel Bouchard — to
The turmoil and hubbub on
"I think I needed something," Erskine admitted last Saturday after a 2-1 Islanders win in
"It’s been a little different," Erskine said of his move to the Eastern Conference. "The different divisions, playing the different teams and all that stuff. But I think that basically the trade is better for me. It has given me an opportunity to play here and play in those situations that I wasn’t playing (in
It is not as if the 25-year-old from
A physical, classically stay-at-home defenceman, Erskine plays within his limitations and offers the Islanders a physical backline presence. To be sure, with the likes of Eric Godard, Arron Asham and Erskine around, the Islanders are plenty tough by NHL standards, with Erskine putting up 81 NHL penalty minutes so far this season. Now in his sixth pro season, Erskine is a top-notch enforcer who fought all that the AHL had to offer.
But surely all of the talk about rule changes and a new sleeker, slicker NHL last summer to had to concern Erskine, no?
It did, Erskine acknowledged, and it was a matter that he discussed with his agent prior to re-upping with the Stars last August.
"It was definitely an issue going into camp," recalled Erskine, who made a successful adjustment to the new brand of NHL hockey his priority last fall.
"The game has changed a lot since the previous year. You constantly have to work on your game to stay up here."
So Erskine has adjusted. The big hits are out and an emphasis on positional play is the priority now. Head coach Brad Shaw, who spent three AHL seasons in
"He wants me to always play positionally," Erskine explained.
Such an approach fits fine for Erskine. Between inexperience, fatigue and a league full of youngsters in their early twenties looking to make a mark, the AHL is far more scrambly. So, a nice, simple game is fine by Erskine.
"I think in some aspects of the game, it’s almost easier to play up here. Everyone is in their position at all times."
Patrick Williams covers the AHL for theahl.com and SLAM! Sports