The 2015-16 season was admittedly a bad one for Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. His play regularly drew ire from fans, who quickly became annoyed with poor defensive decisions, turnovers with the puck, and an overall lack of physical play from the six-foot four-inch tall 220 pound defender.

This season, although only six games in, Ericsson has looked much more like an NHL player who carries an annual cap hit of $4.25 million. While he never has been (and likely never will be) expected to make a big splash offensively, Ericsson made a smart, aggressive play on the puck in Saturday’s 3-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks. That play directly led to a goal for Gustav Nyquist, and was Ericsson’s second assist of the young season. Last season, he finished with three goals and 12 assists while playing in 71 regular season games.

With Niklas Kronwall still not active with a knee injury, steady play from Ericsson has been crucial to the team’s 4-2 start.

Although Ericsson is dealing with a hip impingement, his work during the off-season led him to feel that he could still improve this year. “I improved a lot during the off-season with that, mobility wise, strength wise,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s always going to be there, but it’s not a big issue.”

Head coach Jeff Blashill is encouraged by what he has seen from Ericsson as well.

“He’s done a real good job of taking the extra second when needed to make sure he is making the right decision with the puck,” Blashill said. “When you’re a big man, you usually have a little more time than you think – even if you are under pressure, you can hold guys off with your body, and he’s done a real good job of holding guys off with his body and taking that extra second to make the right decision. He’s been physical, physical from a fighting standpoint, physical from just the playing standpoint – he’s won lots of battles. The Nyquist goal the other night, he won a battle in our own zone and that helped us exit out of the zone. So he’s been really good.”

While we are still only six games into the new season, a breath of fresh air is nice. Especially considering how many times we collectively cursed at our TV’s last season at Ericsson’s expense. With more confidence in his back pocket these days, there is no reason to believe that Ericsson can’t continue his elevated level of play.