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  • What would it take for Eriksson Ek to compete for the Calder?


    Long have Minnesota Wild fans been waiting for a superstar draft pick to make the jump into the NHL roster right out of the draft and make an immediate impact. To not just impact team success, but be recognized by his peers and the experts throughout the league.

    I was curious of how many Wild players had ever received a vote for the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s “Rookie of the Year,” and even though the Wild have only been a franchise since 2000, the results were eye opening to say the least. Five. According to Hockey-Reference.com only five Wild rookies in the last 16 seasons have received a vote for the award. Most Wild fans can probably guess the first Wild rookie to get a vote from the writers. Marian Gaborik finished 7th in the Calder voting in the expansion season. Since then, a couple of goalies, Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper each received a single vote and finished 13th and 16th respectively. The Wild had two rookies receive votes in the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season with Charlie Coyle and Jonas Brodin. Brodin finished the highest in the voting in franchise history by finishing 4th behind Jonathan Huberdeau, Brendan Gallagher, and Brandon Saad.  

    Every year the experts talk about who they think is going take home the hardware for rookie of the year, and most signs this season are pointing to Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins, Clayton Keller of Arizona, Colorado’s Tyson Jost, among many, many others. Some have mentioned the Minnesota Wild’s Joel Eriksson Ek as a dark horse as well, but not many have given him a chance. Eriksson Ek has an opportunity to take the league by storm and show everyone what he can do. Do I think that Eriksson Ek is a shoo-in to be up on the stage at the NHL Awards Ceremony accepting the award for Rookie of the Year? Well, it’s not likely. However, there are a few factors that could help give him a chance to be successful, and have a great rookie season.

    First things first, get Chris Stewart off of his line. Obviously the Wild are a little short-handed right now with some key injuries in Parise and Granlund, but when the Wild have a healthy lineup of forwards, Eriksson Ek will benefit greatly from a skilled winger who is dependable in the defensive zone. This is where Charlie Coyle would be a great addition to Eriksson Ek’s line. For a young center that is still adapting and developing to the speed and skills of the National Hockey League, it is key to have a couple wingers that can bail you out in the defensive zone, as well as contributing in the offensive zone. Eriksson Ek hasn't left a huge footprint in the NHL yet, but here are some numbers from last season as well as through 2 games this season.

    These two tables from NaturalStatTrick.com show how many scoring chances for and chances against Eriksson Ek has been on the ice for with each Wild forward. As you can see, Stewart is the Wild forward that Eriksson Ek has played the most with. With over 90 minutes played together between this season and last, Eriksson Ek and Stewart have been on the ice together for 52 scoring chances for, and 115 scoring chances against. Obviously these aren’t great numbers, and Stewart isn’t a dependable enough forward in the defensive zone to help Eriksson Ek ease his way into the NHL as a center. What are Eriksson Ek’s numbers with Charlie Coyle? The sample size is really small, but in nearly 12 minutes of ice time together over the last two seasons the Wild have had 14 scoring chances for and 13 scoring chances against. There isn’t a lot of data to work with, but it’s much better numbers defensively than what Eriksson Ek saw while on the ice with Stewart.

    Coyle and Eriksson Ek would only make up two of the three required players to make up a line. So, who would play on the left side? There’s one player that I would love to see on the left side, and that’s Zach Parise. With eight years left on his contract, most fans don’t want to see a $7.5 million dollar demoted down to the third line. However, with the injury issues Parise has faced over the last few seasons, he may benefit from a decrease in 5v5 time on ice by playing some third line minutes. He would still be playing with quality players like Eriksson Ek and Coyle, and would likely still get his fair share of power play and penalty kill time. Eriksson Ek would benefit greatly by playing with a hard-nosed, gritty veteran player like Parise.  

    We will see how it shakes up after Granlund and Parise return from their injuries. When they return it deepens the Wild’s forward group immensely compared to where they are without those two. This will allow a coach Bruce Boudreau to shuffle up the lines and get guys comfortable playing with each other.  

    It’s been a few years since a Wild rookie made his presence known throughout the league. Will Eriksson Ek win the Calder Memorial Trophy? The odds aren’t very high with the pools of talent that come year after year these days. With the right line mates, Eriksson Ek will have a chance to get comfortable in an 82 game grind, be able to depend on his wingers in the defensive zone, and good on the score sheet on a consistent basis. Gaborik and Coyle are the only Wild forwards to receive votes for in the Rookie of the Year award. Look for the young Swede to join that list when the NHL Awards take place in June. 

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