Canucks to decide on lead Swede in backup goalie battle
Newly signed Joacim Eriksson led Skelleftea to Swedish League championship, will likely vie with Eddie Lack for second netminding spot
VANCOUVER — A lot can change between now and training camp, but it's shaping up to be a battle of the Swedes for the backup goalie position with the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks confirmed a Swedish weekend newspaper report on Monday when they announced the signing of goalie Joacim Eriksson, a highly regarded 23-year-old who this past season helped lead Skelleftea to the Swedish Elite League championship.
Eriksson is expected to compete with fellow Swede Eddie Lack at training camp for the backup job behind Cory Schneider.
The Canucks could also acquire an experienced NHL backup either via free agency or in the expected trade of goalie Roberto Luongo, so it is far from a given that Lack or Eriksson will land the job.
"As you know our goaltending situation at this point is in flux," assistant general manager Laurence Gilman said Monday. "But we think that Eddie Lack and Joacim Eriksson both have the talent level to compete for the backup role."
Eriksson, who signed a two-year entry level deal with the Canucks, posted terrific numbers last season with Skelleftea. He went 21-9-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average, a .931 save percentage and five shutouts in 30 regular-season games. In 10 playoff games, Eriksson's numbers were off-the-charts good: a 1.06 GAA and a .952 save percentage.
"This player was highly sought after," Gilman said. "There were a number of teams vying for his services. We identified him early. (European scout) Lars Lindgren was very much pushing us to sign him … we tried to sign him last year, actually. I saw him play in November and he's a very good goaltender, very athletic."
It is rare for European goalies to come to North America and step right into the NHL. The smaller ice surface requires an adjustment and most serve an apprenticeship in the AHL, as Lack has done.
But going straight to the NHL from Europe is not without precedent. Henrik Lundqvist went straight from Frolunda in Sweden to the New York Rangers in 2005 and Niklas Backstrom left Karpat in Finland to join the Minnesota Wild in 2006.
"Our belief is that he will compete for the backup position here," Gilman said of Eriksson. "However, it's always an adjustment for any player coming over to North America from Europe so he may need some seasoning in Utica."
Eriksson was originally drafted in the seventh round (196th overall) by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Before having major hip surgery this past January, it was widely assumed that Lack would inherit the backup job. He is on a one-way deal this coming season at a salary of $850,000. But his rehab from surgery and the fact he struggled somewhat early last season has some wondering whether he will be NHL-ready this season.
Reached Monday in Vancouver, Lack said his rehab is going well and insisted he will be ready to compete for the backup job in September. He also said Eriksson's signing was not a huge surprise.
"I kind of knew there was one more goalie coming and I kind of put one and one together when I saw some reports in Swedish newspapers," Lack said. "It didn't really catch me by surprise that he signed with the Canucks. It's all right."
Lack and Eriksson know one another and both spent time playing with the Brynas junior and senior teams at different times.
"We got to know each other a little bit and we have some mutual friends, too," Lack said.
Lack said Eriksson's signing does not change anything for him.
"It's going to be like that wherever you play," he said. "You have to earn your spot and I kind of feel like I have paid my dues in the minors now and it's time for me to step it up a little bit and show that I can play in the big leagues now."
Lack began skating six weeks after his surgery and said he will ramp things up in mid-July. He plans to spend almost the entire summer in Vancouver.
"I am just trying to get 100 per cent healthy and back to the shape I have been in before and just get ready for training camp. I have been here three years now and I kind of feel like this is my time to show something."
ICE CHIPS: Eriksson's contract is a two-way deal that pays him $925,000 a year in the NHL and $70,000 in minors ... Multiple reports have former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault receiving a five-year, $10-million deal to be the new coach of the New York Rangers … Gilman would not say if any progress has been made in contract talks with defenceman Chris Tanev, who is a restricted free agent. Teams must make qualifying offers to their RFAs by July 2.
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