Joel has a role
Joel has a role
Eriksson Ek key to Sweden juniors
"There’s a reason he wears the “C” on his jersey. He’s the player. He doesn’t speak that much in the locker room, but when we’re in the gym or on the ice, he puts his best game on and shows the rest of the players how to follow. He can play an offensive game. He can play defence. He can play on the wing or centre. I just hope we can keep him, said Monten, after his team laid on an impressive 5-1 exhibition win on Canada in Plymouth, Michigan on Friday.
The 19-year-old Eriksson Ek was drafted 20th overall by the Minnesota Wild in 2015 and as such he’s the highest drafted of all Finns and Swedes at the evaluation camp. But Monten’s praise comes with the very real worry that Eriksson Ek won’t be available to the junior team come December.
“I’m going to go to the camp in Minnesota with an open mind, see what happens and take it from there,” Eriksson Ek said of the forthcoming NHL season. “If I don’t make it, I’ll go back to Sweden. It’s a great league for me. Either way, it’s going to be good.”
He didn’t make it last year, but that came as no surprise to him. At 18, he wasn’t ready. “I had a lot of things to work on,” he admitted. “I was pretty small last year. I knew I wasn’t going to play in the NHL.”
Nevertheless, he signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Wild last summer and is destined for the big league at some point. Indeed, there are more Swedes in the NHL than any other European nation, and a large factor in that representation is the players’ own willingness to stay at home and develop in familiar surroundings. Eriksson Ek is no exception.
“I was comfortable at home, and playing against men is good for me,” he said of Farjestad, the team he plays for in the top pro league in Sweden. “It makes me use my body. It’s a tough league.”
Pragmatic, he knows that whether he makes the Wild or not, returns to Farjestad or not, the summer experience at this evaluation camp can only help. “This is a good team here,” the captain noted, “and it’s a good chance to practice. I want to make the team if I can.”
Eriksson Ek played at the 2015 U18, where the team finished a disappointing 8th, and at last year’s World Juniors in Helsinki, losing to the U.S., 8-3, in the bronze-medal game. Now, he’s a leader, not a follower.
“Because I played last year, it’s my responsibility to show the new guys how it works. Of course, I want to be a leader and help the team be as good as possible.”
Naturally, the Europeans have added incentive to take advantage of this summer camp hosted by the Americans at USA Hockey Arena. “The game is different on the smaller ice than Olympic size, so it’s good to get this practice for us as well,” Eriksson Ek noted. “I’d like to see the team work hard and fight for each other. It’s important to stick to our game plan and do what we say we’re going to do.”
Although the opening faceoff for the 2017 World Juniors is some 21 weeks away, Eriksson Ek might well be an NHLer by then, his junior career a distant memory. Until that time, though, he’ll help as much as he can, both for his own cause and that of his teammates.
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