It certainly didn’t take long for Bill Guerin to make his first move as general manager of the Minnesota Wild.
Just hours after announcing the hiring of Guerin, the Wild announced the signing of 22-year-old restricted free agent forward Joel Eriksson Ek to a two-year contract worth $1.4875 million annually. Eriksson Ek appeared in 58 games for the Wild last season, scoring seven goals and assisting on seven others. He also spent some time with the AHL’s Iowa Wild, averaging a point per game in nine contests.
At an AAV of under $1.5 million, this seems like a solid deal for Minnesota. Eriksson Ek, drafted No. 20 overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, has still yet to live up to what is typically expected of a first-round draft selection. In 148 NHL games, the Swede has collected a grand total of just 16 goals and 37 points. But at the very least, Eriksson Ek serves as a capable two-way forward in Minnesota’s bottom six and has taken on a respectable amount of PK minutes.
Of course, Eriksson Ek could prove to be far more valuable than “just” a serviceable bottom-six penalty killer in due time. After all, it wasn’t long ago that he was holding his own against grown men in the SHL as a teenager. He is still a few years away from his age-related prime and, with an extended role in Minnesota’s top six, could begin to look like the player the Wild hoped they were getting with the No. 20 overall pick.
After averaging just 13:30 of ice time last season, it’s a little tricky to pinpoint exactly what Eriksson Ek’s role will be this coming season. However, he was trusted to take on a bigger role toward the end of 2018-19 when Wild captain Mikko Koivu was held out of action with a torn ACL, and it may not be just a coincidence that he played some of his best hockey of the season during that stretch.
With Eriksson Ek now under contract, this now leaves forward Kevin Fiala and AHL defenseman Louis Belpedio as Minnesota’s only remaining unsigned restricted free agents.