It’s hard to make a quicker first move than Bill Guerin just did. After officially being hired as the Minnesota Wild GM this afternoon, the team has already signed restricted free agent Joel Eriksson Ek to a two-year contract. The deal will carry an average annual value of $1,487,500 and totals $2.975MM. Jokes aside, assistant GM Tom Kurvers who had been operating as interim GM, had likely worked out this contract with Eriksson Ek. The young forward will still be a restricted free agent when the deal expires, though he will have arbitration rights.
Eriksson Ek, 22, has long had tantalizing potential without much production to show for it. The 20th overall pick in 2015 routinely flashes the ability to be a solid top-nine forward and key contributor for the Wild, but still only has 37 points in 148 career NHL games. During his short stints in the minor leagues—amazingly just 18 games over three years—he has produced at a point-per-game pace and looked like the best player on the ice. But as soon as he is under the bright lights of an NHL rink things haven’t quite clicked.
That’s not to say they can’t. The Swedish forward only turned 22 in January and still has plenty of time to develop into the type of versatile two-way center the Wild have been waiting for. In fact, under new GM Bill Guerin he may get an even larger opportunity to do just that. The team recently committed to Mats Zuccarello in free agency, but there very well may be a turn towards youth and the future if the new GM doesn’t believe they’re ready to contend as currently built. Eriksson Ek and fellow restricted free agent Kevin Fiala (who share the same agent) should be considered building blocks if the team wants to start a mini rebuild, or at least start taking responsibility away from aging veterans like Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Eric Staal.