Wild

Eriksson Ek Is Exactly Where He Needs To Be Right Now

Photo Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – right?

The Wild are riding a season-high eight-game winning streak and doing so in impressive fashion with wins over Cup contenders like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, and most recently, Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. One constant during this winning streak has been the shutdown line of Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, and Marcus Foligno. Head coach Dean Evason calls them his “Security Blanket,” and the trio has been as dominant as ever. It’s just another reminder of why they need to stick together.

Following his breakout as a two-way force last season, many inside and outside the Wild organization thought it was time to elevate Eriksson Ek into a role with more skilled players on the roster, like budding superstar Kirill Kaprizov. After all, Minnesota spent years trying to find a long-term No. 1 Center. Why not see if Eriksson Ek was ready to fill that void?

Evason did just that to open the season, placing Eriksson Ek next to Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello. They controlled play at a reasonable rate, but they weren’t the dominating force many had hoped for. Kaprizov was off to a slow start that had some questioning the contract he signed over the summer. Meanwhile, Eriksson Ek was playing a solid two-way game, but not elevating his game offensively next to the skilled wingers.

After briefly trying that, Evason shook up his lines and placed Eriksson Ek back between his old pals in Greenway and Foligno. The result has been one of the NHL’s most dominant two-way lines from last season. During this eight-game winning streak, they absolutely dominated play at 5-on-5. Eriksson Ek, Greenway, and Foligno controlled 58% of the shot share and registered 17 high-danger chances to nine. This past week’s games are Exhibit A as to why they need to remain intact.

Last Saturday, Minnesota hosted the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs and their parade of stars. The Wild landed in St. Paul, riding their five-game winning streak. The Eriksson Ek line held the likes of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and William Nylander to zero 5-on-5 points in the Wild shootout victory. The Security Blanket suffocated Matthews, out-shooting him 7-3 in nearly nine minutes of head-to-head time.

Last night, the Wild faced another Cup contending Canadian team, this time on the road in Edmonton against the league’s top-two point producers in McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Eriksson Ek once again helped stymie both players all game, holding them to only a single combined point. It was a dominating performance in all facets of the game, especially considering the Oilers’ stars average 3.5 combined points per game.

Maybe it’s time we look at the combination of Eriksson Ek, Foligno, and Greenway as too valuable to break up. They take on the majority of tough minutes, freeing up the likes of Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala to focus on generating offense. And not only that, they’re dominating in these tough minutes. During their back-to-back Stanley Cup victories, the Tampa Bay Lightning found success with a similar “third” line.

The Lightning lineup was full of star power. Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman were all instrumental to their championship runs. Yet, it was their shutdown line of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow who stole the headlines with their ability to smother opposing stars while simultaneously chipping in on offense. The Lightning are still a great team, but haven’t been quite the same since all three departed in free agency or expansion.

Minnesota needs that kind of line, and they have it when Eriksson Ek is between Greenway and Foligno. It’s time to embrace that.

At first place in the NHL with 39 points, the Wild are beginning to generate hope in the hearts of the State of Hockey they can contend for a Stanley Cup. For them to do so, a star-studded conference awaits them. Colorado Avalanche has the Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen line. The emerging Dallas Stars have their impressive trio in Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson, and Joe Pavelski. And, of course, the Oilers will be right there too with McDavid and Draisaitl.

Somebody’s got to shut down those stars come playoff time if Minnesota wants to make a run. Eriksson Ek, Greenway, and Foligno are the perfect trio for the job, so why mess with that?

All data from Natural Stat Trick unless otherwise stated.

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