NEWARK, N.J. – Unable to wrest the No. 20 he wears professionally in Sweden away from Ryan Suter, teenager Joel Eriksson Ek made his NHL debut Saturday night in the Wild’s 2-1 overtime loss to New Jersey wearing No. 14.
It was Eriksson Ek who scored the Wild’s only goal.
“It felt like the puck was going in in slow motion,” said Eriksson Ek, who called the debut a “dream come true.”
The 19-year-old from Sweden became the seventh Wild player in history to score in his first game. The first was Marian Gaborik in 2000. The last one to do so before Saturday was Mikael Granlund in 2013.
Most impressively? Bruce Boudreau trusted him so much, the coach benched Chris Stewart in the waning minutes of regulation and played Eriksson Ek on a line with Granlund and Mikko Koivu.
“He had a good game, and he’s a responsible player,” Boudreau said. “I needed what I thought to at least salvage the point.”
Eriksson Ek, who wore 54 in training camp, started by centering a line with Jason Zucker and Teemu Pulkkinen.
“You feel you can handle the level,” Eriksson Ek said. “I never tried it before. Felt better and better each shift.”
He was recalled because center Erik Haula is day-to-day with a foot injury. Haula was originally hurt blocking a shot in last weekend’s home opener, but he aggravated the injury Thursday against the Maple Leafs.
Boudreau said he likes Eriksson Ek’s composure.
“For a young guy, that usually isn’t there,” Boudreau said. “But when you’re a Swede, I think it’s inbred in you to be a good defensive player before you’re an offensive player, and you could see he was covering up a lot of other people’s mistakes. He’s a good guy that pays attention to detail.”
Eriksson Ek would have made the team out of training camp, but the Wild had to wait for his work visa to be approved. He began in Iowa also because the Wild couldn’t physically have from a salary-cap perspective Eriksson Ek and Zac Dalpe on the roster at the same time.
To afford them both this time, the Wild had to return defenseman Mike Reilly to Iowa even though Jared Spurgeon couldn’t play because of an upper-body injury. Defenseman Nate Prosser, scratched in the first four games, made his season debut instead.
Asked if the potentially ongoing roster shuffle caused by salary-cap issues puts him in a tough spot, Boudreau said: “The coach deals with who’s here. Whether it’s a cap situation or somebody that’s playing good in Iowa that we want to give a chance to, whoever’s here will play and they’ll do a good job.”
Prosser knows role
Prosser, who made his NHL debut in 2010, is the second-most-tenured Wild player behind Koivu. So by now, Prosser is used to being an in-and-out defenseman.
“That’s just kind of the name of the game it’s been for me,” Prosser, in his eighth season with 244 games under his belt, said before the game. “This isn’t the first year it’s been like this. … I’ve got to make sure I’m the guy that always has a smile on his face.”
Future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur had a statue of himself dedicated outside Prudential Center before Saturday’s game.
The four-time Vezina Trophy winner, who played 21 seasons with New Jersey, largely credits Wild assistant coach Scott Stevens, who captained the Devils to three Stanley Cups, for his success.
“As a young goalie coming in, what better than to have Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer in front of you. Two Hall of Famers,” Brodeur said. “I got really fortunate.”