Boston – As a 19-year-old playing in North America for the first time, everything is new for Joel Eriksson Ek.
In a whirlwind week that included scoring in his first minor league game and in his first NHL game, the Swedish rookie has gotten to see everything from Des Moines to New York City.
“I love new things,” Eriksson Ek said, smiling, before playing his third NHL game Tuesday night against the Bruins in his third straight away arena. “It’s real fun to see these big cities and play here.”
So far, coach Bruce Boudreau is showing great trust in the teenager. In Eriksson Ek’s NHL debut in New Jersey, he replaced a benched Chris Stewart on the Mikael Granlund-Mikko Koivu line in the waning minutes to preserve a point in the standings. In the past two games, Eriksson Ek has centered the third line for an injured Erik Haula.
“You don’t expect a 19-year-old young man to come in in our situation and score 50 goals,” Boudreau said. “If he’s responsible and I can trust him out there and if he can play both left wing and center, I think that’s a real good thing for him.”
Eriksson Ek, who had three assists in Tuesday’s Wild victory, was minus-2 against the Islanders, but Boudreau said the goals weren’t his fault. He won seven of 13 faceoffs, but he has made some mistakes off draws in training camp and in the first couple games. Boudreau said that’ll remedy itself with experience.
Unlike many veteran coaches, Boudreau says he loves playing young guys.
“I like giving guys chances. It was something I didn’t think I ever got [as a player], so I always thought, ‘Let’s see what they have,’ ” Boudreau said. “Give them the opportunity, put them in a position to succeed and let’s see where it goes from there.”
Eriksson Ek’s parents, Anna and Clas, plan to fly from Sweden for Saturday’s home game against Dallas “if I’m still here.”
“I still have a lot to learn,” Eriksson Ek said. “There’s a lot of new things going on. So I just try to learn as much as possible from the guys here and take my chances to show I can play here.”
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon, who missed his third game because of an upper-body injury, skated with the Wild on Tuesday morning. Boudreau said if Spurgeon can practice in Buffalo on Wednesday, “hopefully we’ll get him back by Thursday” against the Sabres.
Haula also missed his third game in a row because of a right foot injury.
“He wants to skate [Wednesday],” Boudreau said. “So depending on how it feels and how it goes, it’ll be a game-time decision [Thursday].”
Still in play
It’s clear Boudreau hasn’t been pleased with the start of goalie Darcy Kuemper’s season. After two preseason starts, including one rough outing in Winnipeg, he is 1-1 with a 4.00 goals-against average and .871 save percentage.
He noted again Tuesday morning that the Wild wasn’t bad at 5-on-5 in Kuemper’s start against the Islanders, saying three of the goals against “were of the should-have-been-stopped kind of variety.”
Still, Boudreau said Kuemper’s play won’t make him rethink how much he uses him. “His body of work for his career indicates he’s one of the better backups,” Boudreau said.
Boudreau likes the makings of the Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle line, which produced a goal by Coyle and assists for his line mates Tuesday.
“It’s a very big line,” he said. “I’m hoping it’s a domination, below-the-circles type of line. I’ve been used to having, whether it’s [Ryan] Getzlaf, [Corey] Perry and [Patrick] Maroon, a big line like that or I had [Alex] Ovechkin, [Viktor] Kozlov, [Nicklas] Backstrom, a big, cycling, down low line, too.”