So I want you to consider two players based on their first "full year" of playing meaningful minutes on D:
Player A - 26 years old. Had 2 definite HOF all-time great defensemen and 1 high quality, all star puck moving defenceman, and had 2 other experienced but young defencemen playing alongside him. In front, the top 6 were experienced and mostly in the beginning of their primes (though one was clearly come out of his prime quickly). 10 players (including player A) put up at least 20 assists (which I think is a great target for a 5th/6th D). He had sparing PP minutes and very little PK time. Took some pretty dumb penalties at times and had some rough stretches, even got scratched from time to time since there were 10 different defencemen that got in that season.
Player B - 25 years old. Had 2 definite HOF all-time great defensemen (one at least was an all time great) playing the top line. Line 2 had 2 studs really coming into their own, known as a solid defensive pair but not much offensive power. Often paired with an oft-out of position, undersized "veteren" that lacked greatness in any given category. The top 6 was just as experienced with most of the major players being in the middle of their primes rather than just entering them. He has good size and fluid skating ability with a scoring presence and vision not shared by most defencemen. Due to inexperience, he gets caught out of position often, though one could put a big reason on having to help his lesser talented counterpart all too often. Only 7 players on this team put up 20 assists.
Player A - 06-07 68 games 1/21/22 +0 20:39atoi
Player B - 09-10 62 games 4/9/13 -15 16:42atoi
Obviously I'm not in the slightest trying to say that Jonathan Ericsson is in anyway better than Niklas Kronwall. But I hadn't ever really examined what the team makeup, strengths, weaknesses, etc around either of them in their first "full year" with the club. Ericsson's first full year comes 2 years removed from winning a Stanley Cup. He's stuck with Brett Lebda as a partner (or Derek Meech), who while I'm sure everyone would love Lebda to be back with this group, I can't say it helped to develop Ericsson offensively or defensively. Kronwall got to play with Andreas Lilja and Danny Markov. While neither of them are world class defencemen, they both were decent sized, stay at home, don't get beat in your own zone kind of guys even when they were young. In front of Kronwall was Lidstrom, Chelios, and Matthieu Schneider. Three very good offensive defencemen to learn from.
Ericsson has played with Lidstrom and Rafalski, so he knows how to be an offensive threat from the blue line, he knows how to use positioning, but I think he's also had this huge bar put way above him by fans when he didn't deserve it. Yes, he was highly touted as the next great defenceman, but I really don't see why that still can't be. He's only 27 so he easily (barring a major injury) could play 10+ more years. He's a very solid skater. He doesn't have to over work himself to get in position, he can pour on speed to jump in on a rush (though you rarely see that in him, I think because he couldn't do that and leave Lebda alone when he first came up), he has as good of hands as anyone out there (for his level of experience, I honestly think his hands could one day rival Lidstroms. He won't put up the points like Lidstrom did, but just his soft touch passing, perfect tape to tape passes, stretch passes, will look very similar, very precise and accurate, just like Lidstrom). Ericsson has all the tools to be a top pair defenceman. He shows all the talent and ability to do it. I really think playing with Lebda stunted his growth. Lebda's knack for being out of position, jumping a rush that didn't happen, getting boxed in the corner by bigger forwards, caused Ericsson to develop bad habits of being out of position, trying to help out when he should have stayed home, forcing passes, and leaving the goalie hanging out to dry. Last year was his first year not playing with Lebda. He got to play with the late Ruslan Salei. Ericcson was a +8 last year. His first year on the plus side. I don't think that's just a minor coincodence. Salei gave him on ice, active veteran help. Salei by no means was a great defenceman, but he wasn't just average either. He didn't get beat in his own zone often. I can't imagine how much Salei probably invested in him and retaught him positioning, just by being in the right position himself.
Jonathan Ericcson is not going to be a hall of fame defenceman. But I would bet, neither is Niklas Kronwall. Kronwall will receive more praise because it's probably deserved. Ericsson is always going to receive more criticism, though I don't think it's nearly as deserved. Let's not destroy another young man next year with Brendan Smith and expect that he's going to put up 10/25/35 in his first year. He'll get the benefit of playing behind White, Kronwall, and at least 1 other really good defenceman (hopefully Lidstrom). But he needs support from the fanbase just as much as he needs support from his defensive partner.