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  • Joel Eriksson Ek Took the Road Less Traveled To Becoming A 30-Goal Scorer

    Image courtesy of Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
    Tony Abbott


    It's February 20, 2021. Ryan Hartman catches Kevin Fiala on a breakaway. With only a so-so angle on Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson, Fiala drop-passes it back to Hartman. Hartman doesn't shoot, either, though. Instead, he made a cross-ice pass to a streaking Joel Eriksson Ek. Eriksson Ek shoots it, finds twine, and the Minnesota Wild are up 5-1 in the third period.

    That was Joel Eriksson Ek's 30th goal. Not for the season. His 30th career goal. It took 224 games for Eriksson Ek to achieve this minor milestone. To put it another way, that goal against the Ducks was his sixth goal in 14 games that year, already putting him just two tallies behind his career-high of eight in 2018-19. The 2015 first-round pick had a sterling reputation locally as a strong defensive centerman, but a goal-scorer? Nope.

    Until he finished the 56-game season with 19 goals, that is, then followed it up with a full 82-game campaign where he notched 26. After that, he dropped to only 23 but had a career-high 61 points, forever changing his perception. In case you're wondering, it took Eriksson Ek just 92 games to get from 30 to 60 goals. He cut that gap down to 81 games to climb from 60 to 90.

    Finally, yesterday, Eriksson Ek hit that 30-goal plateau in a single season. He punched in the 122nd goal of his career in a way that was vintage Eriksson Ek. Nothing flashy, just finding a soft spot behind the net and letting Kirill Kaprizov feed him for a back-door tap-in.

    He joins 10 other players in Wild franchise history to reach 30 goals. Only three of them -- Brian Rolston, Eric Staal, and Hartman -- have a claim to playing center for their 30-goal seasons. The Wild haven't drafted many bonafide centers in their existence, but it's worth noting that Mikko Koivu maxed out at only 22 tallies in the 2009-10 season.

    It's almost cliche to talk about how Eriksson Ek is the do-it-all player who is the center (literally and figuratively) of the Wild. He brings so much to the table that it feels like we don't take enough time to appreciate just how great he is at scoring goals. He may not have transformed himself into one of the game's very elite, but he's damn close. 

    Since the 2020-21 season, Eriksson Ek is 52nd in the NHL with 98 goals. That might not be so mind-blowing, but it's worth noting that he's ahead of centers like Elias Lindholm (97), Matt Duchene (97), Tim Stützle (91), and Ryan O'Reilly (86). Before the end of the season, he has a chance to catch up with the likes of Dylan Larkin (100) and isn't far behind Sasha Barkov (107), John Tavares (105), and Joe Pavelski (105). 

    Perhaps the most interesting part of Eriksson Ek's transformation isn't that he's worked himself into being an elite 5-on-5 goal-scorer. Don't get us wrong, he's very solid at 5-on-5, but the thing almost no one saw coming was Eriksson Ek turning into an elite power-play center. 

    Eriksson Ek has 12 power-play goals this season, matching his total from last year and 2021-22. He's money in the bank to hit double-digits for power-play goals, which you can't say of too many players. You can only say that for 13 over the past three years, which is how many have hit double-digits in every season over that span. The centers that join Eriksson Ek are on the short list of the league's best goal-scorers: Auston Matthews, Leon Draisaitl, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Joe Pavelski, Mika Zibanejad, and Sam Reinhart.

    It's wild to say that Eriksson Ek has one fewer power-play goal in the past three years than Connor McDavid, but it's true! What's the secret to him being the NHL's quietest power-play ace?

    Summing it up into a cute sentence, it's probably that Eriksson Ek works hardest when the goals come easiest. Most people see the power play as a skilled players' game, and it is to a large degree. There is extra room in passing lanes to maneuver to create your own shot. But it's also a rebound heaven, and no matter how few opponents are on the ice, crashing the net is a blue-collar hockey play.

    Over the past three years, 205 forwards have 300 or more power play minutes. Eriksson Ek ranks fifth among them, registering 3.59 expected goals among them. Tavares, Chris Kreider, Brady Tkachuk, and Zach Hyman are the only players who exceed him, all renowned for getting to those greasy goals.

    Eriksson Ek doesn't quite convert 100% of his expected goals into actual goals, but that doesn't matter when you're getting the sheer volume of chances he gets. Case in point, he scores 2.99 actual goals per hour on the power play, which is 17th among that 205-player sample. Eat your heart out, Stamkos (2.98 PP goals/hour), Larkin (2.89), Bo Horvat (2.76), Mikko Rantanen (2.60), William Nylander (2.58), and McDavid (2.56).

    What do we make of all this? There's definitely a lesson in here about players not being finished products when they're in their early 20s and a cautionary tale about giving up on players too early. There might be something in there about the key to unlocking players being to embrace what they do well and not dwell on what they don't. Of course, there's also a testament to Eriksson Ek's commitment to rebuilding his game and working himself into being a feared goal-scorer almost overnight.

    But today, we won't make it about some big-picture message. Today is about one simple fact: Eriksson Ek is really, really freaking good at scoring goals. Let's take a moment to appreciate that fully.


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    Kaprizov may be the Wild's best player, but Ek is the most important player.  Kaprizov, Ek, and Boldy are amazing together, and it has paid so many dividends.  Now the Wild just need to clone Ek and have four stone-faced goal scorers down the middle.

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    JEEK, when healthy, has also been one of the Wild’s most productive playoff performers in that same time span. Not having him in that Stars series last year was killer. Just not enough horses down the middle without him. 

    Edited by joebou15
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    I remember seeing Ek in his final WJC tournament. I believe he led the tournament in SOGs. The thing was, though, that a lot of these shots, even though in fairly close were not very hard or accurate. 

    This season, and probably the reason he has 30, it looks as though he worked on his shot this offseason. Why? because he is firing off a wrister, snap shot that has got some real juice on it. Sure, most of his goals come from outworking the opponents, but there are some that are launched, something he didn't have in his bag in previous years. He's not a weapon. 

    But, now that he's got that, he's not enamored with that club, he still works hard and it doesn't matter how it's scored. He doesn't even care if the net poofs. All he cares about is that the puck full crosses that line and there's one tick on the scoreboard. 

    Honestly, we need a couple of more with that same mentality.

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