TRAVERSE CITY — Two years ago, Jonathan Ericsson was the Detroit Red Wings second-youngest defenseman.
Now, the 29-year-old is the second oldest.
It illustrates how quickly the Wings have rebuilt their defense, mostly with draft picks who were in the system.
“It’s been a major overhaul in terms of age,” Wings GM Ken Holland said Thursday at the team’s Development Camp at Centre ICE.
The transformation was kicked into overdrive last season when Nicklas Lidstrom retired, Brad Stuart opted to return to the West Coast, and marquee free agent Ryan Sutter signed with Minnesota.
The two veteran free agents the Wings brought in, Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo, played sparingly down the stretch.
Instead, the Wings defense, anchored by Niklas Kronwall and Ericsson, relied on a batch of relatively fresh faces that included Kyle Quincey (27), Jakub Kindl (26), Brendan Smith (24), Danny DeKeyser (23) and Brian Lashoff (22).
“I look at last year and we finished fifth in the league in goals against,” Holland said. “Down the stretch, when we had to make the playoffs in our last 11 games, we allowed 14 goals in regulation. Our young defensemen we’re learning on the fly. At times, there were some growing pains. Maybe they made decisions that led to goals against, but there is no other way to go about building a team. Sure, there’s a lot of youth there, but we feel good about our defense.”
Coach Mike Babcock agreed.
“Our back end was the biggest improvement area of our team,” he said. “We improved so much back there that we were able to be a good team in the playoffs. The growth of our back end allowed us to focus on forwards in free agency.
“There’s been lots of kids who have come and played a little bit. To come and play all the time, and then stick and make the team better, that’s another thing. We had that happen last year.”