Not often does a coach blurt out in a postgame news conference: “I’ll give you a scoop.”
But Bruce Boudreau made it clear after the Wild’s 3-1 preseason victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday that 19-year-old center Joel Eriksson Ek will play the final two exhibition games.
“I thought he got better and better as the game went on,” Boudreau said. “He stood up and was noticed.”
Eriksson Ek was given his best opportunity of training camp by centering speedster Jason Zucker and veteran Jason Pominville. Eriksson Ek set up Zucker for the game’s third goal and Zucker’s second of the preseason when he stole a pass at the goal line, spun and found Zucker at the goalmouth.
“He looked good,” Pominville said of the 2015 first-round pick. “He’s a guy I noticed early in camp and thought he had size and all the tools. He played well all over the ice, defended hard and made some plays offensively.”
If Eriksson Ek doesn’t make the team, it sounds like he’ll return to Sweden to play this season for Farjestad rather than play for AHL Iowa. If it’s close, the Wild could extend Eriksson Ek’s opportunity by playing him up to nine games without burning the first year of his three-year contract.
Other roster hopefuls to play Sunday included forwards Kurtis Gabriel, Zac Dalpe, Jordan Schroeder and defensemen Christian Folin and Victor Bartley. Bartley, however, didn’t play in the third period because of an injury. Boudreau did not yet have an update on Bartley after the game.
Tyler Graovac, Mike Reilly, Ryan Carter, Nate Prosser, Christoph Bertschy and Alex Tuch, who are all vying for spots, didn’t play. Boudreau said Carter, Tuch, Bertschy and goalie Darcy Kuemper have the flu.
Wild regulars Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula and Marco Scandella did not play.
“I thought it was Dalpe’s best game,” Boudreau said. “You know what you’re going to get out of Kurtis Gabriel every night. He’s going to be a physical presence, and sometimes he’s going to take a penalty, sometimes he’s not. Schroeder, that was his best game by far as far as his speed and individual play. … It was a pretty solid effort by him.”
With Niederreiter, back from the World Cup, set to begin practicing Monday, Boudreau will start experimenting with the Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund line. Koivu centered Granlund and Chris Stewart on Sunday.
“We have the alternative of throwing Nino up there, putting Granlund on the right side or Nino on the right side,” Boudreau said. “You could move Zucker up there and somebody back if you wanted more speed and a little more scoring.”
Feeling ‘pretty good’
Devan Dubnyk made 16 saves for the victory. The only goal he allowed came on a screen.
“You feel pretty good in practice, but it’s way different in a game,” Dubnyk said. “I felt pretty good in the first game, better [Sunday] and hopefully better in the next one.”
The Wild outshot the Hurricanes 38-17. Seventeen of 18 skaters had at least one shot, led by Ryan Suter, who had four and was plus-3 in 24 minutes, 34 seconds of ice time.