There was a time not too long ago that the Wild selecting Joel Eriksson Ek over hometown kid Brock Boeser in the 2015 NHL Draft was seen as a massive misstep.
You had Eriksson Ek, who was known for his defensive prowess more than anything else, and Boeser, the Burnsville native who took the league by storm with his ability to light the lamp. It seemed fair to wonder whether the Wild missed an opportunity to draft a legitimate sniper in favor of a depth player without much upside.
Until this season.
With the Wild still in desperate need of some depth up the middle, the 24-year-old Eriksson Ek has started to look the part of a No. 1 center. He’s established himself among the best two-way players in the league, scoring 12 goals in 36 games while consistently defending the opposing team’s most dynamic player.
That skill set was on full display in Saturday’s win over the Vegas Golden Knights. Not only did Eriksson Ek serve as a shutdown player on defense, he led a comeback on offense, assisting on the game-tying goal and then scoring the game-winning goal.
It was only right that Eriksson Ek got the “Hero of the Game” hat from goaltender Cam Talbot after the game. That honor is bestowed upon the hardest worker in each game, and when Talbot tried to give it to Eriksson Ek about 48 hours earlier, he immediately handed it back to him.
“I thought he should keep it,” Eriksson Ek said explained after Thursday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Golden Knights in which Talbot helped the Wild steal a game they probably should’ve lost.
Let’s just say Talbot wasn’t taking no for an answer after Saturday’s win.
“I told him it wasn’t coming back to me this time,” Talbot said. “He definitely earned it again tonight. For him to come out and have another big game like he did last game when I tried to give him the bucket, and to replicate that game and actually get even better, it says a lot about him and his work ethic and his commitment to this team.”
Not surprisingly, Eriksson Ek tried his best to stay out of the spotlight postgame.
“It was a great team effort,” Eriksson Ek said. “We stuck with it and came out to play in the third period. We had the energy and we really competed hard.”
That willingness to defer credit to his teammates might explain why casual fans would still have a hard time recognizing Eriksson Ek on the street.
Not that it matters to the Wild. They understand exactly who Eriksson Ek is and how important he is to the team.
“I definitely knew who he was (before I came here) and knew the name and stuff like that,” Talbot said. “Did I know he was as good as he is? No. He just does so many of the little things that it takes to be successful in this league. He just does them all right, and he does them with intensity and he does them the right way.”