Joel Eriksson Ek
Born: Jan. 29, 1997
2016-17 Team: Farjestad BK/Minnesota Wild
How Acquired: 2015 Draft (First round, 20th overall)
A year ago this time, 2015 first-round pick Joel Eriksson Ek was entering training camp looking to just to get a crack at the Minnesota roster.
But after two separate stints with Minnesota last year, which included his recall in March from Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League, Eriksson Ek enters training camp this year as just about a lock to make the team to begin the year.
After playing in nine games with Minnesota last fall, the Wild sent Eriksson Ek back to Sweden to grow his game where he would be playing 20 minutes a night instead of the 10 minutes he was getting with the Wild. During his time with Farjestad (26 games), Eriksson Ek scored eight goals and eight assists before his recall to Minnesota in March.
Like some other Wild prospects, Eriksson Ek, 20, captained Team Sweden in the World Junior Championship last January, and scored nine points (six goals-three assists) to lead his team. Sweden finished fourth in the tournament, as they lost the third place game to fellow Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov and Team Russia.
The reason for Eriksson Ek's sudden recall to the Wild, was that the team was in the midst of a slump and badly needed a spark. He played out the remaining games with the Wild that season (scoring a goal and an assist), and did get into three playoff games in the Wild's five game series loss to the Blues.
With the loss of Erik Haula to Vegas this past June, the Wild have an opening at center to open training camp. Enter Eriksson Ek, who has his sights set on making the team full-time. He told wild.com last week, "I think I have to prove myself and prove that I want to be there. I'm going to do my best and I hope that I make the team."
When the Wild drafted Eriksson Ek, they were getting another highly regarded center out of the Swedish leagues. He is a 200-foot center (meaning: plays a good two-way game), something the Wild front office regards dearly especially from the center position.
"There is no quit in his game as he battles until the very end. Uses his powerful skating stride to bull his way around the ice and into greasy areas of the ice. Tremendous work ethic. He used his speed and size tocharge back on the back check and then add a hand with the breakout, being both a reliable and responsible player. Supported in all three zones and in all corners of the ice, no matter the situation. Can crush, and devastate with his checks when he wants to. Drops down low in the defensive zone to help out and finish checks, not allowing his opponents any room to make a play. Shows excellent puck protection using his large frame and strength to fight off checks while being strong on the puck. Completes pinpoint passes that lead his man on the rush." - Future Considerations, May 2015
Eriksson Ek competed in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament with the Wild this past week, as the team finished fourth out of eight teams. With the tournament behind him, he now will go into training camp at the end of this week with this sights set on grabbing that open center spot. If his game at the tournament was any indication, he should have no problem getting that spot when the Wild open the season on Oct. 5.
Chuck Fletcher also spoke to wild.com about Eriksson Ek's prospects this season when he said, "He certainly has physically matured in the last year. He's put on another 10 pounds of muscle, and last year, he was 10 pounds stronger than when we drafted him. He's gaining strength quickly and he's maturing, he's quicker, he's stronger, he's faster and that's the exciting thing, and there may even be more physical development ahead of him. He probably has the ability to get even stronger over the next one to two seasons.
I think the sky is the limit for this kid and I just want to make sure we give him every opportunity for him to be successful."
Check back on Thursday to see who comes in at No. 2!
No. 4-Jonas Brodin
No. 5-Luke Kunin
No. 6-Jordan Greenway
No. 7-Mike Reilly
No. 8-Gustav Olofsson
No. 9-Kaapo Kahkonen
No. 10-Dmitry Sokolov