Wild coach likes top prospect Joel Eriksson Ek even if his name is hard to pronounce
ST. PAUL--The pronunciation of top prospect Joel Eriksson Ek's name still confuses Bruce Boudreau. Everything else about him has made an impression on the Wild coach with the season opener against the St. Louis Blues a little more than a week away.
ST. PAUL-The pronunciation of top prospect Joel Eriksson Ek's name still confuses Bruce Boudreau. Everything else about him has made an impression on the Wild coach with the season opener against the St. Louis Blues a little more than a week away.
"Is his name Yool or Joel?" the coach asked reporters this week. "I look at the thing and it's a 'J' and I'm sitting there on the bench going, 'Am I calling this guy by the wrong name?' "
Boudreau will learn exactly how to pronounce the name if Eriksson Ek continues to make plays like the one he made in a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
As a Hurricanes player tried to start a breakout with a lazy between-the-legs pass late in the third period, Eriksson Ek anticipated the play to perfection. He stuck out his stick to intercept the pass, then rotated and fired a shot on net, where linemate Jason Zucker scored an easy goal.
"It was just trying to forecheck the D," Eriksson Ek explained. "(Zucker) screened in front and I shot it to him."
With two starting forward spots up for grabs, Eriksson Ek has as good a chance as any of the roster hopefuls to make the team. Those types of plays only help his cause.
Zucker got credit for the insurance goal against the Hurricanes, but he was quick to credit Eriksson Ek.
"That pass was very nice, and not only the pass, him picking off the pass from that D-man," Zucker said. "That was a great play, a great read by him. There are a lot of guys playing in their first game that aren't making that read; they're just hitting the D-man and making the play around them.
"I thought he made a good read and then made a great pass. I thought he played a great game."
It was actually the third preseason game for the 20th overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft. It was, however, his first time playing with NHL talent around him. Eriksson Ek centered Zucker and veteran Jason Pominville, who said the teenager was a player he noticed early in camp.
"It's a good opportunity for me," Eriksson Ek said. "They taught me a lot. They were talking to me. It was a fun game to play with such good players."
Boudreau praised the prospect after the Carolina game. Aside from veteran Eric Staal, who dominated his former team, Eriksson Ek might have been the best player on the ice.
"I'll give you a scoop," Boudreau said after the game. "He will play the next two (preseason) games."
Tuesday's game against the Avalanche represented another big opportunity. Eriksson Ek centered Zucker and Chris Stewart at the morning skate.
"I think the only thing that's holding him back is experience right now," Boudreau said.
Eriksson Ek said his confidence has gotten "better and better" as camp has progressed, and it's shown in the way he carries himself around the team. "You're starting to know the guys," he said.
He also is learning that NHL hockey is "a little bit different than (in) Sweden." He is battling with Zac Dalpe and Tyler Graovac for center minutes on the fourth line, although he also could play wing if needed.
If he doesn't make the team, Eriksson Ek likely will return to Sweden rather than play for the Iowa Wild.
"We can always keep him for nine games before we send him back," Boudreau noted before adding, "That's never been discussed yet."
That means, in theory, Eriksson Ek could play a little more than 1/10th of an NHL season without burning a year of his three-year contract. That might be good for him as he's a big part of the Wild's long-term plans.
In the meantime, Eriksson Ek hopes to continue showcasing his skills. He said he hasn't gotten much feedback from Boudreau, but added that it doesn't bother him. What about the fact that Boudreau isn't sure how to pronounce his name?
"That doesn't matter," he said.