Joel Eriksson Ek emerged as an excellent two-way center this year. And the Minnesota Wild has rewarded him handsomely for his efforts. (Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

Joel Eriksson Ek Signs 8-Year, $42 Million Extension With Wild

The Minnesota Wild is one of the more interesting teams in hockey right now. It’s a shocking statement to read for what was considered arguably the sport’s most boring franchise less than a year ago. But after injecting Kirill Kaprizov led to an exciting but ultimately short-lived season (the club lost in the first round to Vegas in 7), the Wild have a lot of work to do this offseason. The club is set to lose a quality player to Seattle in the expansion draft. They have four notable unrestricted free agents who made upwards of $4 million last season. And they have three key restricted free agents to sign, including the aforementioned Calder Trophy-winning Kaprizov.

Well, they had three key RFAs to sign. General manager Bill Guerin made his first big move of the offseason, signing center Joel Eriksson Ek to an 8-year deal, $42 million contract. It’s nearly identical to the extension Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins signed earlier in the week, with a slightly higher price tag but no no-movement clause. The club announced the contract Friday evening.

Though he rarely played with Kaprizov, with head coach Dean Evanson choosing to spread the wealth upfront, there’s no doubt Eriksson Ek is Minnesota’s best center. Minnesota took Eriksson Ek with the 20th pick in what is turning out to be an impressive 2015 draft class. After two solid years in the Swedish Hockey League following his selection, Eriksson Ek debuted in the 2016-17 season. His true rookie year came the next season. Eriksson Ek didn’t generate much offense in his first three years, topping out at 16 points in 75 games in 2018-19. But under the hood, Eriksson Ek was quietly improving. In that 2018-19 season, he posted a strong 51.22% Corsi and 55.73% Expected Goals%.

Eriksson Ek took a much more noticeable step forward in 2019-20, tallying 29 points in 62 games. He nearly replicated that stat-line this season, scoring 30 points in 56 games; a solid 44-point pace. Combine that with a stellar career-high 60.32% 5v5 goals for percentage (38-25), and you have yourself a nice little player. But even for a young center, that’s not the type of offense you’d expect to result in an eight-year contract. So why did the Wild commit to such a big contract?

Simple: in addition to producing solid offensively, he’s great defensively. The 24-year old finished 4th in voting for the Selke Trophy this year. It’s extremely rare to see a player come so close to winning the Selke their first time receiving votes; it’s usually seen as a reputation award; recent winners like Sean Couturier and Aleksander Barkov have won the award just as much because of their work in previous seasons as their performance in the season they won (2019-20 and 2020-21, respectively). Yet Eriksson Ek was nearly a finalist for the award, which he should contend at for years to come.

So Eriksson Ek’s a solid offensive player, one that could probably reach 55-60 points if/when playing consistently with Kirill Kaprizov or/and Kirill Kaprizov. For reference, his most common linemates this year were Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno; solid players, yes, but not Minnesota’s most gifted talents. And he’s also one of the game’s best defensive centers. Is that worth the pay he received? The short answer: yes. Using CapFriendly’s wonderful contract comparison tool, we can see the types of players that received similar contracts. With the default settings in place, who’s Eriksson Ek’s number one comparable? None other than the outstanding defensive center he went toe-to-toe with during the 2021 playoffs, Vegas’ William Karlsson, who’s finished as high as 6th in Selke voting (2017-18). Not too shabby.

Can’t let you Wild fans get too happy, of course.

There’s always a bit of a risk when you sign a contract this long, even though Eriksson Ek will only be 32 when it expires. And it’s not like Eriksson Ek is a no doubt about it superstar. But he seems fit to fill the same role Wild legend Mikko Koivu did for over a decade; solid shutdown center, probably best used as a second-liner. Support Eriksson Ek with an elite talent up the middle like Buffalo’s Jack Eichel or (potentially) the 9th overall pick in last year’s draft Marco Rossi, and you’re all set.

Even if the Wild decide to ride Eriksson Ek as their number one, he’s more than capable of handling big minutes against top competition and coming out on top, even without elite linemates. This seems like a risk worth taking for the Wild, the first of many big decisions in a critical offseason in the State of Hockey.

Follow Us on Twitter! Also, check out the Vendetta Shop and our partnerships with SimBull (learn more here) and the Peri Goodman’s Store for custom stickers!

Advanced Stats are 5-on-5, Score and Venue Adjusted, unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick