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Eriksson Ek Finding His Way in NHL

Rookie forward has made a big impact from day one with Minnesota

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

Becoming Wild: Eriksson Ek

Becoming Wild Webisode: Joel Eriksson Ek

Becoming Wild presented by Toyota - Webisode featuring Joel Eriksson Ek from the 2015 NHL Draft to his NHL Debut

  • 03:13 •

At 19 years old and in a foreign land far from home, Joel Eriksson Ek got word there was a problem with his paperwork. 

Nevermind the fact that the rookie had just gone through his first NHL training camp and essentially made the roster: Eriksson Ek's League debut would have to wait until his work visa was sorted out.

Eriksson Ek said he remembers the conversation with Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr, who delivered the life-changing news that he had made the team.

"It was something special; a dream come true," Eriksson Ek said. "It was a goal I had since I was really young to play here and it was really fun to hear those words that you are supposed to start up here."

But instead of flying with the team to St. Louis to start his NHL career, Eriksson Ek was forced to go to Ottawa to iron out his immigration paperwork.

There, he waited for days before finally getting clearance. 

He went to Des Moines and scored a goal in his AHL debut before getting recalled by Minnesota in time to make his NHL debut in New Jersey on Oct. 22.

"I had a pretty early flight that morning to New York," Eriksson Ek said. "I got some sleep and just had some good food. Then it was game time. I was trying not to think too much, just enjoy the time. You can't think too much in that situation; you just need to believe in yourself."

That night, Eriksson Ek became the seventh player in Wild history to score a goal in his NHL debut.

"It was a great feeling," Eriksson Ek said. "They were telling me [on the bench], 'C'mon, smile.' They wanted me to get some emotions."

Getting Eriksson Ek to display some emotion has been tough for his Wild teammates. On several occasions, they have tried to get him going on the bench, looking for any kind of reaction. 

They fail often, as the rookie always seems to keep a level head. It's one of the things countryman and Wild defenseman Christian Folin said he really respects about Eriksson Ek.

"You notice that he's really mature," Folin said. "He's played pro a couple of years in Sweden, so you know he's been around. He's a smart kid and he knows what he needs to do and how he's supposed to be around the locker room."

Folin took a much different route to the NHL.

After going undrafted, Folin came to North America and grinded his way through the North American Hockey League before earning a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. After two seasons playing college hockey, Folin signed with the Wild at age 23.

"It's really impressive [that he's in the NHL at 19]," Folin said. "You can't say enough about that. It's really cool to be a part of it and see him every day. He's a special kid, that's for sure."

In addition to Folin, Eriksson Ek has counted on another Swedish defenseman, Jonas Brodin, for guidance through his first few weeks in the NHL.

Like Eriksson Ek, Brodin reached the NHL at the age of 19.

"You learn a lot," Brodin said. "Every day, from all the guys, you're learning a lot, especially from the captains and the leaders. And he's been really good [doing that]."

In addition to adjusting on the ice, Eriksson Ek has had to learn what it's like to go day-to-day with the basics off the ice. It's helped having Folin and Brodin around to show him the way.

"There's so many new things that go through your mind," Folin said. "Everything you hold so dear [is] at home and you're comfortable being there. You knew everything: what grocery store to go to, where to go get gas, all the simple things you don't really think of. Then you come over here and it's different."

Learning English has also been a challenge. When he was first drafted, Eriksson Ek struggled with the language despite taking classes while growing up back home. 

In that regard, he seems to improving daily.

"From teammates, but you learn English in school from when you're pretty young," Eriksson Ek said. "It's getting better and better. I understand most [things]. It's getting more and more comfortable to speak."

That goes for things on the ice, as well, where the Wild believes it has something special.

His teammates are already seeing it.

"The way he acts on the ice, he's really smart and poised with the puck," Folin said. "He knows when to get it deep and knows when to make plays. It's fun to see. I just think he's going to grow and get better as we go along here."

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