ST. PAUL -- There's zero doubt in Chuck Fletcher's mind that Joel Eriksson Ek could have been a contributor with the Minnesota Wild this season.
But with Eriksson Ek playing mostly a fourth-line role -- about 10 minutes per night -- Fletcher, the Wild's general manager, decided it was in the best interest of the organization to send him back to his native Sweden for additional playing time. So, after nine NHL games, including a goal in his NHL debut, the Wild assigned Eriksson Ek back to Farjestad on Thursday in hopes that he is able to improve his skills and build his body for a run at the roster full-time starting next season.
"We think he's a young man that with another year of seasoning in Sweden, continue to work on his skills, get a little quicker, continue to get a little stronger," Fletcher said. "He's going to be a power center in the NHL."
The Wild has been high on Eriksson Ek since it took him in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft, but that confidence has only grown in the last year-plus.
After an impressive prospect camp in July, Eriksson Ek made the team out of training camp, only to have an issue with his work visa delay his debut until Oct. 22 in New Jersey. Eriksson Ek scored in his American Hockey League debut, then became the seventh Wild player in franchise history to score in his NHL debut in a 2-1 loss to the Devils.
Averaging nearly a point per game through his first handful of NHL games, including a three-assist night Oct. 25 at Boston, Eriksson Ek found that the League caught up to him a bit.
"The first three weeks, it can fool you," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said Thursday. "He was averaging a point a game and then veterans start to get a little more serious and his minutes dwindle a little bit. This became the best viable option we thought."
Still, it hasn't changed the organization's belief that Eriksson Ek is going to be a special player for years to come.
"I think it confirmed our thoughts. We've always been pretty high on Joel, and as everybody saw here, he has skill and he has size," Fletcher said. "He's a very hard-working young man with high character. For a 19-year old man to come in and play as well as he did in the NHL is impressive."
How Swede it is
Boudreau was complimentary of Jonas Brodin and Christian Folin after the game Thursday, calling the duo their best pair of the night.
Both players assisted on Mikael Granlund's game-winning goal with 44.5 seconds remaining in regulation and was again solid in its own zone.
Brodin said he can feel the chemistry building.
"It's getting better and better," Brodin said. "We've been playing together since [the season] started. It feels good right now, we know each other pretty good, where we are on the ice. That's a good thing."
The duo, both from Sweden but born two years apart, has earned the trust of Boudreau and the coaching staff. With Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon back together and going against most teams' top offensive groups, Boudreau said the pairing of Brodin and Folin is certainly capable of also matching up against top units.
"If they continue to play the way they can, I feel very confident that we have at least four defensemen that can, when you play against the really good teams that two good lines, you can be matching up a little bit better," Boudreau said.
Assessing the Avs
The Wild has been involved in three 1-0 games over the past two weeks, including two in a row this week.
The other was Oct. 5 in Colorado when Gabriel Landeskog's third-period goal lifted the Avs to a victory at Pepsi Center.
Up until that point, it was one of the Wild's best 60-minute efforts of the season, but Boudreau said there isn't much to take from that game after 14 days. Instead, the Wild will try and build on Thursday's one-goal win over Boston, one where the Wild seemed to get better as the game went on.
"When you play a team the second time, you get to learn their tendencies from the first game," Boudreau said. "We're not going to be using it as a revenge-type game. The stepping stone we want to use is [Thursday] night's game and build off that."
The game against the Avalanche also begins a stretch of three straight and four of five against Central Division foes.
"If you want make hay when the sun shines, these are the times you gotta bear down and be successful," Boudreau said.