SUNRISE, FLA. – Chuck Fletcher walked into his Fort Lauderdale beach hotel Friday morning red and sticky after pacing for almost an hour in the South Florida humidity with his phone pasted to his ear.
After selecting skilled, hard-working center Joel Eriksson Ek with the 20th pick Friday night, the Wild general manager said that was the reason he was the only GM not wearing his sports coat through most the first round.
“It’s hot,” Fletcher said.
The Wild exec was dashing all over his hotel Friday. He had several meetings with free-agent goalie Devan Dubnyk’s agent, Mike Liut. With Fletcher occupied in one of them, restricted free-agent center Mikael Granlund’s agent, Todd Diamond, waited patiently in the lobby sipping on iced tea. In between, Fletcher fielded a call from defenseman Mike Reilly’s agent, Pat Brisson, with word that the former Gophers standout elected to sign with the Wild.
Fletcher’s business Friday could result in a productive weekend. Besides luring Reilly, Fletcher made headway with his two biggest pending free agents and hopes to finalize contracts for Dubnyk and Granlund on Saturday.
“We’re getting closer,” Fletcher said.
The Wild was particularly thrilled to get Eriksson Ek, an 18-year-old from Sweden who skyrocketed up the charts like the Wild’s Jonas Brodin did in 2011. Eriksson Ek went from being the 22nd-ranked European skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service at midseason to fourth in the final ranking.
“I’m a two-way player that can feel comfortable playing on both sides of the puck and will do everything for the team to win,” Eriksson Ek said.
Fletcher was willing to move down to get an extra second-round pick because there were a couple of players left the Wild really liked. But nobody around him would trade. The only firm offer was two second-round picks from what’s believed to be San Jose.
“It’s hard to get centermen,” Fletcher said. “To find a centerman with [Eriksson Ek’s] skill set, with that character, with that leadership potential, we’re excited.”
Eriksson Ek comes from a good hockey pedigree. His dad, Clas, played for Farjestad, Joel’s current team, for 13 seasons. He was also excited to come to Minnesota because he grew up in the same Karlstad hometown of Brodin, a former Farjestad player.
“He’s a real mature kid,” assistant GM Brent Flahr said of the eighth Swedish player selected by the Wild since 2009. “He’s a big two-way center, very smart player on both ends of the rink. He’s a real hard-working kid, he’s a character kid and he can really shoot the puck.
“He has the ability to score goals.”
Eriksson Ek, who is 6-2 and 183 pounds, split last season between Farjestad’s junior team and the Elite League team, quite an accomplishment for a teenager. He scored 21 goals and 32 points in only 25 games to lead the Under-20 league and four goals and two assists in 34 games for the big team.
“He’s a big leader on the Swedish national teams on every team he’s played on,” said Flahr, who said Eriksson Ek has a two-year contract with Farjestad and is a world junior shoo-in. “He’ll be a big part of the future.”
As for Dubnyk, Fletcher has talked with Liut often since Thursday. Indications late Friday were that they were moving in the right direction.
“Right from the get-go, Devan’s been clear to me and to the media that he wants to stay, and clearly we want him to stay,” Fletcher said. “We’re working through. The last couple days have been great ideas, and now it’s getting closer in terms of concrete dollars.”
Both were mulling over different scenarios in terms of length of contract vs. dollars. Liut started negotiations by asking for maximum term — an eight-year deal for the 29-year-old. Fletcher wasn’t willing to go that long.
The Wild would like to sign Dubnyk to a contract in the four-year range at about $4.25 million per season, sources say. Liut was inching toward the high fours on a longer-term deal by late Thursday, and it’s believed more ground was made Friday.
Fletcher isn’t worried. He’s used to goaltending turmoil. He’s not proud of it, but he has navigated through murky goaltender waters ever since he arrived in Minnesota in 2009. And the reality is there are more goalies available than spots, so the Wild will be able to find a goalie if Dubnyk opts to leave.
The Buffalo Sabres acquired goalie Robin Lehner. The Boston Bruins acquired goalie Martin Jones. The only teams in clear need of goalies are San Jose and Dubnyk’s former team, the Oilers, although Dallas and Calgary are looking around. Other goalies on the trading block include the Rangers’ Cam Talbot and Vancouver’s Eddie Lack. San Jose’s Antti Niemi and Calgary’s Karri Ramo are free agents.
On Granlund, Flahr said it’s just a matter of “dotting the i’s and giving a fair number.”
The Wild’s day started in exciting fashion when it won the Reilly sweepstakes. The Chanhassen native agreed to a two-year deal and will sign with the Wild officially Wednesday.
Asked if he has a chance to make next year’s team, coach Mike Yeo said: “Of course. There were no promises made, and he was very accepting of that. He welcomed the challenge and knows he has to earn it. But you’re talking about a pretty special player.
“We just acquired a great player, a great young prospect.”