The question of who is the Minnesota Wild’s No. 1 center appears to be Joel Eriksson Ek.
At least for now.
The 24-year-old was paired with wingers Mats Zuccarrello and Kirill Kaprizov on the first line as the Wild opened training camp Thursday at the TRIA Rink in St. Paul. It is a move up for Eriksson Ek who centered Marcus Foligno and Jordan Greenway, a very productive — and physical — grouping last season.
“To see Ekker move up its more confidence for us knowing that we were a good line last year,” Foligno said during a media availability session earlier this week., “but really we’ve got to be adaptable (as a line) and be able to make changes and be able to play with anybody/”
“(Eriksson Ek) has always been working hard, … and you’ve see him mature a lot last year and even the year before,” Foligno said. “You’re happy for guys like that who get to move up.”
Eriksson Ek is coming off a season in which he had 19 goals and 30 points and also shined as a defensive forward and seems poised to build off that success. The Wild committed to the 24-year-old this summer as he agreed to an eight-year. $42 million extension.
Eriksson Ek also led the Wild in faceoffs won (395) this season, was second in hits (105), third in shots (119), and fourth in plus/minus rating. The Karlstad, Sweden, native has 96 points in his five years with the Wild.
He begins this year with new linemates but don’t expect any difference in his playing style.
“I don’t think I should change very much,” Eriksson Ek said in a media session, “just play my own game, see where it fits and go from there.”
It has the potential to be a formidable pairing.
“For guys like Kirill and Zuccy who are so special and gifted and then you throw Ekker in there. It could be a spark right away,” Foligno said. “It’s going to be huge for our team.”
It could come down to chemistry — something that Kaprizov and Zuccarello had when paired together last season.
“Chemistry is something you have to work on too,” Zuccarello said in a media session. “For some people it’s there instantly but for other you’ve got to give it time. I think with Ekker, he’s a smart, good player. He works so hard and strong on the puck. I am real excited to be with him right now.
“We’ll see what happens in the future.”