One of Joel Eriksson Ek’s shining moments during his brief stint as an NHLer came last month against the Boston Bruins when he became the first teenager in Wild history and fourth rookie to have three assists in a game.
But hours before Thursday’s rematch against those same Bruins, Eriksson Ek learned he’d be returning to his professional team in Sweden.
The Wild, as GM Chuck Fletcher indicated earlier in the week, decided that if Eriksson Ek wasn’t going to be a top-nine forward in the NHL, he would be better off playing in the Swedish Elite League rather than the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate in Iowa.
By deciding this before Eriksson Ek played his 10th game, the 19-year-old’s three-year, entry-level contract slides and the Wild remains two contracts short of the max 50. The Wild also created more than $715,000 in salary cap space, according to capfriendly.com.
Eriksson Ek understood, saying: “It’s just another step along the way. It’ll be good for me to play some games, a lot of minutes, hopefully play the world juniors with Sweden [next month].”
Eriksson Ek was averaging 10 minutes, 7 seconds a game, lowest on the team, and was scratched the past two games.
“We want him to play 20 minutes a game,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, who told Eriksson Ek that the Anaheim Ducks did something similar with countryman Rickard Rakell, who scored 20 goals last season, in 2013.
“[Eriksson Ek] will come back next year 10 pounds stronger, knowing what the league is about, knowing what he has to do even more so than he did this year. I think he’s going to be a real, real good player.”
Fletcher didn’t want to put Eriksson Ek full-time in Iowa, saying Monday that “having stability and not being on a yo-yo might be good for a 19-year-old kid.” He added that going to a familiar place “where he’ll play consistently and know the environment well … will benefit him” and “playing on the big ice … might allow him to continue his skill development.”
Eriksson Ek scored in his pro debut in Iowa and NHL debut in New Jersey. He scored a beautiful game-winning goal in Buffalo. But he followed five points in his first four games with none in his last five.
“The first three weeks, it can fool you,” Boudreau said. “He was averaging a point a game and then veterans start to get a little more serious and his minutes dwindle. This became the best viable option.”
Eriksson Ek could be recalled in an emergency, but realistically, the Wild would have placed him in Iowa if it considered that an option. So Boudreau had to be comfortable with recall options such as Christoph Bertschy, Jordan Schroeder, Teemu Pulkkinen, Kurtis Gabriel and Alex Tuch.
That’ll leave a mark
Calgary star Johnny Gaudreau had surgery to repair a broken finger sustained vs. the Wild. Video showed several examples of the Wild slashing him, and he clearly was hurting after two Eric Staal slashes and one by Ryan Suter.
“To be honest, I don’t how it happened or if it even was me or somebody else,” Staal said. “You’re playing and you’re reacting, and it’s unfortunate. He’s a good player.”
Defenseman Marco Scandella (high ankle sprain) took part in Thursday’s morning skate but isn’t eligible to come off long-term injured reserve until Wednesday’s game vs. Winnipeg.
“It’s encouraging, and now he gets a chance to actually have a few practices to really test the ankle,” Boudreau said.