ST. PAUL - Joel Eriksson Ek is becoming more and more comfortable as he attempts to make the Wild roster out of training camp. It's apparent in the way he practices, at the pace he practices and in his performance in preseason games.
Given perhaps his biggest opportunity of training camp yet, Eriksson Ek left a positive impression with coaches and teammates in a 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Put on a line with established NHLers Jason Pominville and Jason Zucker, Eriksson Ek received more than 13 minutes of ice time, won 56 percent of his draws and tallied his first point of the preseason on a fantastic set-up feed to Zucker on a third-period goal that gave the Wild a two-score advantage.
"It was a good opportunity for me to learn a lot," Eriksson Ek said of the game Sunday. "They were talking to me. It was a fun game to play with such good players."
Video: Wild Talk Zucker's goal vs. Carolina
Eriksson Ek's assist on Zucker's goal was an example of the all-around presence the rookie has, even at age 19. On the forecheck, Eriksson Ek intercepted a clearing attempt by Carolina near the right half wall. He spotted Zucker going toward the net and fired a perfect pass right onto his tape for the redirection.
It extended Minnesota's lead to two goals, essentially icing the game with 4:29 remaining.
"That pass was very nice. And not only that, but him picking off the pass from that D-man," Zucker said. "That was a great play, a great read by him. A lot of guys playing in their first game aren't making that read, they're just hitting the D-man and making the play around them.
"I thought he played a great game."
While regular minutes with veteran players aren't likely in the immediate cards for Eriksson Ek, the Wild is giving consideration to keeping him around, at least for the first couple weeks of the regular season.
With Eric Staal, Mikko Koivu and Erik Haula expected to center the top three lines, Eriksson Ek is making a serious push to win playing time centering the fourth line. He's currently locked in a battle with Zac Dalpe and Tyler Graovac for the spot, although players could shift positions if need be.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said Eriksson Ek will continue to get looks over the final week of camp and is expected to play in both of Minnesota's remaining preseason games, on Tuesday in Colorado and against Winnipeg in St. Paul on Saturday.
"We'll continue to play him. Then we'll see," Boudreau said. "Worst case scenario, and I don't know what [Wild general manager] Chuck [Fletcher's] plans are, but you can always keep him for nine games before you send him back. But that's never been discussed yet.
"The only thing holding him back right now is experience."
Fresh off an appearance in the finals of the World Cup of Hockey, Wild forward Nino Niederreiter returned for his first on-ice session with his teammates on Monday.
Video: Niederreiter's First Practice
The last of Minnesota's six players who played in the tournament to return will now take a crash course on Boudreau's system before the season opener in St. Louis, which is just 10 days away.
"It's been a crazy week, a crazy month," Niederreiter said. "It's definitely fun to be a part of the team again, and I'm looking forward to the next few days."
Upon his return to practice, Niederreiter was placed in a familiar spot: alongside Haula and Pominville on what was Minnesota's most productive line down the stretch last season.
Niederreiter said it helped to be next to friendly faces.
"It was the first practice, so it was great to be a part of my old line. We talked a lot, and getting to know the system, it's a lot easier when you get used to players you played with last year," Niederreiter said. "But at the end of the day, no matter what position Bruce puts me in, I'm trying to give my best."
Boudreau hinted that he may stick with that group, at least early in the season.
"He's like part of a glove fitting in with that line," Boudreau said. "They look very comfortable out there, so now let's just see them in a game."
The Wild made several moves on Monday, reducing its training camp roster to 33.
Forwards Kurtis Gabriel and Zack Mitchell and defenseman Gustav Olofsson were assigned to Iowa and forwards Pat Cannone and Jordan Schroeder were placed on waivers.
If Cannone and Schroeder clear waivers, they will also be sent to Iowa.
Mitchell and Olofsson have battled injuries in camp but were cleared for action before being assigned.
Boudreau said he simply wants Gabriel to get playing time, and Iowa will be the best opportunity for him to get that.
"That's what we told him; he needs to play," Boudreau said. "There's no sense in him being a six-minute a game guy here or being the 13th forward. If he plays 15 minutes down there, [he] learns the whole game. We know he's tough, we know he can fight, but [he's] learning the game."
Bartley out indefinitely
Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr announced during practice that defenseman Victor Bartley will be out after tearing a triceps muscle in Sunday night's game against the Hurricanes.
The injury will require surgery, and Bartley is expected to be out months as opposed to weeks.
Bartley was signed to a two-way contract by the Wild on July 1 and was expected to head up a revamped roster in Iowa to start the season.