When Bill Guerin took the job as Wild general manager a couple of years ago, he didn’t know much about Joel Eriksson Ek. In fact, it wasn’t until a road game in Montreal early in his first year in charge that Guerin truly realized Eriksson Ek’s importance.
“He blocked three Shea Weber slap shots in a row,” Guerin recalled. “That kind of solidified what kind of guy he was in my mind. You don’t do that without having great character and great courage, and from that moment on, I really believed that he’s a guy that is going to help us win.”
On Friday afternoon, Guerin put his money where his mouth is, signing Eriksson Ek to an 8-year, $42 million contract that will keep the 24-year-old forward from Sweden with the Wild through the 2028-29 season. Overall, the contract negotiations went very smoothly, and in the end, both sides got what they wanted.
“We didn’t know where it was going to land when we first started talking,” Guerin said. “This took three days. It just shows how much Joel wants to be here.”
Asked why he felt comfortable signing a max deal in terms of length, Eriksson Ek said, “I think we can build something really good.”
And Eriksson Ek is a big reason for that. To say he had a breakout season would be putting it lightly. He continued to star defensively game in and game out while flashing a scoring touch offensively that hadn’t yet been seen in his previous four NHL seasons.
“I’m just trying to get better every day,” Eriksson Ek said. “Hopefully I still develop. Just trying to do my best to do so. I’m working hard and doing the right things in the summer to try to be as ready as I can when next season starts.”
Though there might be some pressure on Eriksson Ek moving forward — especially after scoring a career-high 19 goals last season — he’s taking those expectations in stride, with a smile on his face.
“He’s a real pro,” Guerin said. “At 24 years old, he’s not even a finished product. He’s still a young man. Just the way he takes care of himself mentally and physically and the way he approaches the game and shows up on a consistent basis, (you can see) there’s still more to come.”
While the pressure on the Wild now shifts to signing young snipers Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala — which won’t be the easiest thing in the world — the fact Guerin was able to lock up Eriksson Ek so quickly is something he can feel good about.
“It says a lot about what we’ve started to build here,” Guerin said. “I think the players are really excited about what’s going on. You’ve seen guys like (Jared Spurgeon) sign long-term deals. (Marcus Foligno) signed before he went to UFA. You saw Ryan Hartman take a three-year deal with a bit of a pay cut because he wants to be here. And Joel takes an eight-year deal because he wants to be here and he believes in what’s going on. For me, as the general manager, it makes me feel good about what’s going on and the type of people we have here. I’m very excited about it.”