Unique skill: Eriksson Ek leads NHL in penalties drawn by opponents

·4 min read

EDMONTON, ALBERTA – Joel Eriksson Ek is a regular on the Wild's power play, logging the second-most minutes on the team in that situation behind Kirill Kaprizov.

But it also isn't unusual for Eriksson Ek to be on the ice leading up to the advantage.

No one in the NHL has merited more calls than Eriksson Ek, whose 17 drawn penalties going into Tuesday's game at Edmonton were tied for the most in the league with Toronto's Michael Bunting.

That accounted for about 20% of the Wild's total power plays, a knack by Eriksson Ek that can be explained by his sandpaper style of play that grates against the opposition.

"He's hard-nosed in front of the net," Wild goalie Cam Talbot said. "He knows where to get in the dirty areas, and he doesn't retaliate. He gets in there first, and he kind of stirs stuff up. He'll take a punch or two to the head and draw the penalty and skate away.

"He's very good at what he does."

This tendency was on display last Saturday against the Maple Leafs.

In the third period, Eriksson Ek drew a holding-the-stick-penalty and then the center was clipped by a high stick just 12 seconds later to put the Wild on a lengthy 5-on-3.

Although the Wild didn't capitalize, the opportunity showcased the type of momentum swings a player like Eriksson Ek can generate based on how he's involved in the game.

"Sometimes it's just being at the right place at the right time and if you have the defender on the wrong side of you, maybe [he] has to take a penalty," Eriksson Ek said. "Just trying to be on the right side of the plays and just trying to work as hard as I can."

Despite his proficiency at sending players to the penalty box, Eriksson Ek doesn't focus on racking up power plays.

Actually, many times he doesn't know he's eliciting the attention, coach Dean Evason said.

"He'll come off the ice and he goes, 'How come that guy's so mad at me?' " Evason said. "We'll look at the tape and it's because you whacked him four times, and you had no idea that you even did it. He plays the game the right way. He plays hard. Doesn't matter who he's playing against. He just goes about his business. That's how he plays, and he gets under people's skin because of it and people want to retaliate against him."

Bubble memories

This was the Wild's first game at Rogers Place since the 2020 playoffs when the team faced the Canucks from inside a bubble the NHL created in Edmonton.

Eriksson Ek flashed back to undergoing daily COVID testing, while teammate Nico Sturm recalled the experience as when he settled into the NHL.

The Wild included Sturm on its roster for the playoffs after he spent most of the regular season in the minors, and Sturm joined the action in Game 3 before scoring his first career NHL goal without any fans in attendance during Game 4.

"I don't think I cared much, but it was weird back then," said Sturm, who has been with the Wild ever since. "I'm happy we have fans [back] in the building."

Gaudreau update

Forward Frederick Gaudreau has been in the COVID protocols since Nov. 30, but the Wild expects him to join the team on this four-game road trip at some point.

"We're just working through when and where we get him so he gets enough skates to jump back into our lineup," Evason said.

Injuries in Iowa

The Wild added forward Mason Shaw from the American Hockey League before departing for Edmonton, and Shaw left behind an Iowa team dealing with a rash of injuries.

Among those out for the team are prospects Matt Boldy, Marco Rossi and Connor Dewar. Boldy was hit over the weekend vs. Chicago, while Rossi hasn't played since a Nov. 28 matchup against Henderson that included him get taken down to the ice. Dewar has also been sidelined since that game.

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