Wild

Marco Rossi Is the Clear Choice To Fill In For Joel Eriksson Ek

Photo Credit: David Berding (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Wild enter the holiday break on a four-game losing streak, a big letdown following an eight-game winning streak. They’ve gone from the top of the league on Dec. 10 to a one-point lead in the Central Division. It seemed like things couldn’t get any worse, but it did on Monday night when the Wild lost Joel Eriksson Ek to injury in a loss to the Dallas Stars.

The already shorthanded Wild certainly didn’t need this. They’re already dealing with Jared Spurgeon going on injured reserve again after reaggravating a previous injury. Jordan Greenway also missed Monday’s game with an undisclosed injury.

Eriksson Ek’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time with the Winter Classic coming up on Jan. 1. Eriksson Ek is the only stud center on a team that is already lacking down the middle. It’s a void that seems impossible to fill. “He’s one of our biggest heart-and-soulers,” said Marcus Foligno, whose regular line includes both Eriksson Ek and Greenway. “He’s everything for us.”

As of now, there is no timetable for his return, and the extent of his injury is unknown.

Eriksson Ek may not be the most talented center in the league. But his hardworking play style, defensive prowess, and ability to give 100 percent on every shift have led to dividends early in the season. As a result, he leads the league with 21 penalties drawn in all situations, besting Connor McDavid and the rest of the NHL.

“He does it all for us. He brings it every single night,” Talbot said about Eriksson Ek. “You can put him out there at any point in a game, and he’s gonna give you everything he’s got. There’s no replacing a guy like him just like there’s no replacing Spurgy.”

The 24-year-old center, who signed an eight-year contract extension in the offseason, is off to a strong start this season with 11 goals and 20 points through 30 games. That goal-scoring isn’t due to luck, either. Eriksson Ek has generated 9.12 individual expected goals, which is the third-highest on the team. Maybe his defensive game isn’t as efficient as years past, but he’s still been integral to Minnesota’s success. Aside from Hartman, Eriksson Ek is the only legitimate center with offensive upside.

His injury opens up doors for plenty of players as the Wild are likely going to be shorthanded out of the break against the Winnipeg Jets.”It’s going to be a by-committee kind of thing,” Talbot said of the situation. “Next guy up. We have the depth to do it. But obviously, those are tough injuries. You never want to see that.”

With the Wild losing four straight and needing a spark, it is the perfect time to call up top center prospect Marco Rossi. Elevating depth players like Frederick Gaudreau, who has been silent offensively this season, would not be the most strategic move with Eriksson Ek out — especially for a team desperately needing to get back in the win column.

Remember, Minnesota’s brass chose to start Rossi with the Iowa Wild rather than the big club. He had an unbelievable comeback after suffering a heart condition, an aftereffect of COVID-19. That reason, along with the fact that the first year of Rossi’s contract will be burned if he plays nine or more games this season with the Wild, makes it understandable why he started in the minor leagues.

Minnesota must be patient with his development. And despite criticism of the decision going into the season, it has worked out. The Wild were off to the best start in franchise history before the losing streak. However, if Eriksson Ek is out for a significant time, it is a perfect opportunity to award Rossi by calling him up. And the Wild will need him down the middle, too.

Rossi is flourishing with the Iowa Wild this season and has easily been their best player. The Austrian center has 18 points in 18 games and displays immense talent and skill.

There is no doubt that his game is built for the long run, and bringing him up to the NHL not only could be the spark the Wild desperately need right now to get back to their winning ways. But he is also the best candidate to fill in for Eriksson Ek, who is sidelined for the immediate future.

Plus, giving him an opportunity with the Wild could end up paying dividends. If he succeeds, he could help establish the Wild as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders¬†for those who don’t buy it just yet.

Eriksson Ek’s injury may have come at one of the worst times. But now Bill Guerin and Co. have the opportunity to insert one of the NHL’s best prospects into the lineup. That could prove to be a difference-maker for the Wild this season.

All Data Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick and Hockey-Reference.

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