It's official: As I reported on startribune.com Monday and in the paper Tuesday, Joel Eriksson Ek would likely be returned to Farjestad in Sweden rather than be assigned full-time to Iowa if the pattern continued of him being scratched or playing fourth-line minutes.
Well, after being scratched two games in a row and averaging the fewest minutes on the team, Eriksson Ek was officially returned to his Swedish professional club this morning.
Eriksson Ek, whose shining moment so far in the NHL was his three-assist game against the Boston Bruins last month (tonight's opponent), was delivered the news before today's morning skate.
"We want him not to play 10 minutes a game," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We want him to play 20 minutes a game. I told him, I said, 'We (Anaheim) did the same thing with Rickard Rakell where he played nine games his first year and then we sent him back to juniors (Plymouth) after sitting him out for two weeks.' I said, 'You've got five or six games before the World Junior Championship gets in there. We'd like you to do well there.' It's good for his development. He'll 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."
Eriksson Ek said, "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, so it’ll be good for me."
I asked if Eriksson Ek if Sweden makes more sense than Iowa: "I think so. Sweden is a really good league, it’s really tough, you can see from the players coming over from the American League having a tough time, so I think [Sweden's] a really good league to develop in."
Asked if he's confident in the Wild callups without Eriksson Ek at his disposal, Boudreau said, "Yeah, I think Graovac has done a good job. We have had three or four other guys called up. We will get the best guys that we can to come up here. And we're getting healthier so it should work out."
Eriksson Ek, 19, recorded two goals and three assists in his first four games, but went without a point his final five games.
"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 a little bit. This became the best viable option we thought."
Said Eriksson Ek, "I had a terrific start there. Felt pretty same, maybe I was thinking a little bit too much when things weren’t going my way."
By not playing a 10th game, Eriksson Ek's three-year, entry-level contract slides and the Wild's at 48 contracts, two fewer than the maximum 50.
Asked if he understood Fletcher's reasoning for choosing Sweden over Iowa, Boudreau said, "Let's face it: If he went to Iowa, and it's great that he plays in the American League, but say we needed somebody as a callup. Once we call him up for that 10th game then there's no sense going back to Iowa because he's already burnt the year. I think it's a smart move and it's the right move for the team and the organization."
Fletcher's rationale for sending Eriksson Ek to Sweden over Iowa, here is my story from Tuesday's paper.
If you listen to my podcast (it's a good one), I had a sense it would happen today because Fletcher wanted to sit down with Eriksson Ek and meet with Boudreau, and he returned from the GM meetings yesterday.
Also, defenseman Marco Scandella (high ankle sprain) skated during the morning skate today, but he's not eligible to return until next Wednesday. Good sign though because now he'll get a bunch of practices in to get ready, unlike before the returns of Zach Parise and Erik Haula.
As for the Bruins, I ran into David Backes riding the bike. Told him we missed him a few weeks ago when he missed the game in Boston with an injury, and he deadpanned, "You won't miss me tonight."
The Wild caught a break in Boston without Backes and both their goalies.
"They have a much different team here tonight," Boudreau said. "They've got [Tuukka] Rask in net. They've got Backes back. They've got guys playing the way they're supposed to be playing. And everybody knows that when Boston plays the way they're capable of playing they're better than adequate. They're one of the better teams in the league. We have to expect that tonight against them."
That's it for now. I'll be the NHL Network Bald Spot Cam at 4:05 CT, Barreiro on KFAN at 5:15 and Fox Sports North during the 6:30 p.m. pregame show and first intermission.