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Eriksson Ek has sights set on Wild roster spot

Promising forward could fit into role on third line

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Joel Eriksson Ek played a lot of hockey last season, but the 20-year old Minnesota Wild center didn't have a problem cutting his summer short for the 2017 Traverse City Prospects Tournament.

"I'm still young, and the most fun I know is to play hockey," said Eriksson Ek, who had a goal and an assist in the Wild's 6-5 comeback win against the St. Louis Blues on Friday to start the tournament. "It's a good start for me to just play some games. It's hard to get these kinds of games in summer training. I've [played] some amazing places too, so it's been fun. I'm enjoying every day."

Eriksson Ek, the No. 20 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, made his League NHL debut with the Wild last season, with seven points (three goals, four assists) in 15 regular-season games and no points in three Stanley Cup Playoff games. He also had 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 26 games with Farjestad BK in the Swedish Hockey League, one goal in one game with Iowa of the American Hockey League and competed for Sweden in three international tournaments.

The culmination was a goal and two assists in 10 games to help Sweden win the gold medal in the 2017 World Hockey Championship, but it didn't take him long to get back to work.

"I think I started to work out about two-and-a-half weeks after that," said Eriksson Ek (6-foot-2, 197 pounds). "I can't really stand around [too much]. I start to feel like I want to do something. So, if my body tells me to do something, I'm probably going to move around a little bit."

The Wild are hoping he moves up the depth chart this season.

Video: OTT@MIN: Eriksson Ek scores off Coyle's smooth feed

There is a chance he can earn the role of third-line center in training camp, which might put him on the ice with forwards Charlie Coyle and Marcus Foligno, who was acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on June 30.

Eriksson Ek's main competition for that role is 40-year old center Matt Cullen, who signed with the Wild on Aug. 16 after helping the Pittsburgh Penguins repeat as Stanley Cup champions last season.

"With [Cullen], it makes it a little more difficult, but with [Eriksson Ek], we want him to play more minutes than not," said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who was in the stands at Centre Ice Arena. "We don't want to make him part of our team and make him be a seven-minute guy. He's got skill. If you look at our team, if he was a third-line guy, he could be between Foligno and Coyle. That's a pretty big line."

It would also be a skilled line centered by an intense rookie, whose competitive side came out against the Blues on Friday.

St. Louis scored to take a 5-1 at 4:38 of the third period, but the Wild won by scoring five straight goals in less than 10 minutes, including Eriksson Ek's goal with 3:59 left. That made it 5-3 and was the first of three goals scored with the Wild's net empty.

Eriksson Ek's tenacity made an impression on Iowa coach Derek Lalonde, who coached the Wild on Friday.

"We're down to 11 forwards [at that point] … and he's kind of looking back at me like, 'Get me back out there,' " Lalonde said. "He's giving me the look, and that's just how competitive he is. I appreciated that. He's just competitive. It's hockey, and once we're between the lines, his competitive spirit takes over."

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