Minnesota Wild: 2018-19 Season Preview of Joel Eriksson Ek

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 4: Joel Eriksson Ek #14 of the Minnesota Wild battles front of the net against Derek Grant #38 of the Anaheim Ducks during the game on April 4, 2018 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 4: Joel Eriksson Ek #14 of the Minnesota Wild battles front of the net against Derek Grant #38 of the Anaheim Ducks during the game on April 4, 2018 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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Second year forward Joel Eriksson Ek is next on the countdown to the Minnesota Wild preseason. With 2 weeks remaining until the first game, let’s look at the Swedish prospect.

Happy Labor Day! Our countdown to preseason has landed on the Minnesota Wild’s #14. Joel Eriksson Ek is coming off a mediocre first season for the Minnesota Wild, but appears to be in line for an increased role in his second full season at the NHL level.

History

Joel Eriksson Ek started his professional career in Sweden, playing among men as an 18 year old in his draft eligible year. He opened eyes with his ability to play a 2-way game among players much larger than himself, and was drafted 20th overall by the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft.

His game was praised as a clutch player, with 21 goals in the SuperElit through 25 games before making his jump to the adult league. As an pro, he was the top scoring junior with 6 points in 34 games.

Where Eriksson Ek really shone, is during International play representing his country. As a 17 year old, Ek recorded 22 points in 19 games, and the following year another 12 points in 16 games.

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He made the Minnesota Wild roster in October of 2016, playing in 9 games with 5 points. This includes a goal in his first NHL game, and 3 assists in his 3rd game. He was sent back to Sweden following his 9th game, in order to preserve his rookie contract.

This attempt was undone in March 2017, however, when Eriksson Ek returned to the team to play another 6 games to end the season. Ek would record another goal and assist in these games.

Last season, Eriksson Ek would make the opening day roster and play nearly the entire season but for 7 games he missed. He got off to a hot start, with a goal on opening night, but would then not record another goal until February 19th. Ek finished last season with only 16 points, but left an impression that he can be effective without reaching the scoreboard.

Season Outlook

Joel Eriksson Ek is a bit of an anomaly to me this preseason, as I know he belongs on the Minnesota Wild roster but I’m not sure where he should fit. Last season was spent mostly on the 3rd/4th line, as he spent time with Charlie Coyle, Marcus Foligno, Daniel Winnik, and Chris Stewart among others during the regular season.

This season, the most obvious spot to try and fit him is on the same line with Coyle and Jordan Greenway. I’ve discussed this previously, but I feel like that isn’t the best fit and he will likely give that up to someone else sooner than later. Particularly if he still fails to adapt to scoring in the NHL.

The first and second lines appear to be set, as they should remain unchanged from last season. Should Eriksson Ek find the scoring touch that made him a 1st round pick back in 2015, I think there is at least a possibility that he could find his way to the first line in a year or two.

As is common for European players in the NHL, it can often take a few years for them to completely adjust their game to the physicality, smaller ice and faster game speed. Mikael Granlund took 4 years to truly breakout, and Joel could definitely follow a similar path.

Of note, this is a contract year for Ek. If past history in the NHL is any indicator, that could be enough of an incentive to boost his game to a higher level for the benefit of contract discussions going into next season.

The other possibility for Ek, would be finding himself as the odd man out on a suddenly crowded team. Highly unlikely, but he may hold a lot of value on the trade market should Fenton decide to shake things up with a big trade to bring some value in return.

Next. Minnesota Wild: Potential Trade with Nashville?. dark

For now, I suspect we will see Eriksson Ek start the season on the third line, where he finished last year. He showed chemistry with Greenway in the playoffs and was often the best line on the ice. Despite a lack of scoring, I feel like his overall game in all areas of the ice has earned the trust and patience of his coaches to play his game and the goals should eventually come.