This post is part of Wild Day on PHT…
There’s no shortage of talented young prospects in the Wild organization — Luke Kunin, Jordan Greenway, Kirill Kaprizov and Joel Eriksson Ek, to name a few.
But in terms of being ready to make the leap, one stands out.
Eriksson Ek, 20, was the club’s first-round pick (20th overall) at the 2015 draft, and made his NHL debut last season by scoring seven points in 15 games, while appearing in three postseason contests. That came during a year in which he made the Wild out of training camp, stuck around for a month before being returned to his native Sweden, then came back to Minnesota late in the year, making his Stanley Cup playoff debut in the process.
An exciting year, sure, but one with quite a bit of upheaval.
Now Eriksson Ek’s looking to stick in one place.
That, of course, would be in North America, preferably in Minnesota rather than Iowa. And it sounds like there’s a good chance of that happening, given Eriksson Ek’s performance in ’16-17 alleviated many of the club’s concerns about his game translating to the NHL.
“His small ice game is already so good,” Fletcher said last season, per the Star-Tribune. “Usually with Europeans, a lot of them have to acclimate to the smaller ice and have to learn how to be effective playing on the smaller ice. Joel’s already a very good small ice player.”
It doesn’t seem like playing surface really matters to Eriksson Ek. Consider what he accomplished last year. With SHL club Farjestads, he had 16 points in 26 games, and six in seven playoff contests. With Sweden at the World Juniors, he captained the club and had nine points in seven games. With Sweden at the World Hockey Championship, he had three points in 10 games en route to a gold medal win over Canada.
Yet even after all that success, there’s still an undeniably steep learning curve ahead. Eriksson Ek played limited and sheltered minutes last season, cracking the 12-minute plateau in just three of his 15 games (he was used sparingly in the postseason as well, skating just 22:44 total in the series versus St. Louis).
But that might change, as head coach Bruce Boudreau no longer has a wealth of options down the middle.
Last season, Boudreau didn’t have to throw Eriksson Ek into uncomfortable positions, because he had a host of veteran centers to fill ’em: Mikko Koivu, Eric Staal, Erik Haula, Martin Hanzal, Charlie Coyle and Tyler Graovac all logged extensive minutes.
That depth is no longer there. Hanzal signed in Dallas, Haula was taken by Vegas at the expansion draft, and Graovac was traded to Washington.
As such, it certainly seems like Fletcher and company have opened up a spot for Eriksson Ek this fall.
Now we wait to see if grabs it.