When he found out he was getting demoted to the minors, Wild center Joel Eriksson Ek was disappointed.
But he also understood the point of the assignment, to gain reps in the offensive zone amid the hope he’d build confidence that would translate to the NHL.
And as a 21-year-old who surpassed the 100-game plateau earlier this season, Eriksson Ek believes he’s still very much in the process of evolving — even now that he’s returned to the Wild.
“I’m still young, and I have to play a lot,” he said. “I still learn every day, so I think it was good for me.”
Eriksson Ek remained in the lineup Thursday to face the Jets at Xcel Energy Center in the Wild’s return home after a four-game road trip through the Eastern Conference. He had one shot in 9 minutes, 43 seconds of ice time.
It was his second appearance after getting recalled from the American Hockey League on Tuesday, and it’s possible he’ll be a staple for the immediate future.
Center Eric Fehr, who smacked his head on the top of the boards in front of the Wild’s bench after taking a late shoulder check from Montreal’s Kenny Agostino during the 1-0 victory over the Canadiens on Monday, will be sidelined for a week or two — a timeline that might not make him available until the team reconvenes after the All-Star break and ensuing bye week.
Coach Bruce Boudreau is hopeful Fehr will skate during his recovery but explained that will depend on Fehr’s rate of recovery.
“He’s not doing great,” Boudreau said.
A righthanded faceoff specialist, Fehr is also one of the Wild’s leaders on the penalty kill. He averages the most shorthanded ice time per game among forwards (1 minute, 57 seconds), helping the unit rank among the best in the NHL.
“He’s a great PK guy,” Boudreau said. “He missed [Tuesday’s] game, and [the Boston Bruins] were 2-for-2. Granted, they were some funky goals. But at the same time, he’s really good in that position. Takes a lot of pride in it. Even though he’s a fourth-line guy, he still has five goals and a big guy on the PK, so we miss him.”
Not only can Eriksson Ek help pick up the slack on the penalty kill, but Boudreau is eager to see the youngster chip in secondary scoring — recapturing the rhythm he had during a five-game stint with Iowa that included four goals, two assists and an impressive 20 shots on net while playing alongside forwards Kyle Rau and Landon Ferraro.
Before getting sent to Iowa on Dec. 28, the 2015 first-round pick had one goal and four points in 27 games with the Wild.
“I have to play the whole ice, especially in the offensive zone,” Eriksson Ek said.
Blue line holes
Like the Wild, the Jets are also missing a top defenseman. Dustin Byfuglien has been out ever since he collided with Wild winger Luke Kunin during the Dec. 29 matchup in Winnipeg.
Byfuglien, who suffered a lower-body injury, isn’t expected to return until after the All-Star break.
“[Matt] Dumba’s a valuable player for us,” Boudreau said. “He’s got six power-play goals. He sort of was running our power play. If you’ve noticed, it hasn’t been as successful as we’d like it to be since he’s been gone. We miss him. We miss his presence. We miss the fact that we could have what we’d call, ‘a big four,’ to put out there.
“I think the depth on Winnipeg … their depth’s great. So I don’t think they miss [Byfuglien] quite as much we do when we miss our better players. But that’s what you miss, that comfort zone of having that big player back there.”
• The Wild did not recall an extra defenseman before taking on the Jets, sticking with six on the roster.