The Minnesota Wild have many talented young players within their system, whether it is through free agent signings or draft picks. A lot of the prospects are either returning to college teams for the upcoming season, or are simply not NHL ready quite yet. Two of the biggest question marks for fans are Mike Reilly and Joel Eriksson Ek, as many are curious in regards to their development. The Wild have signed both Reilly–who is coming off of a season with his college team, the Minnesota Golden Gophers–and Eriksson Ek–their first round draft pick in 2015–to contracts. Both are young and promising, but will either of them be able to make their NHL debut this upcoming season?
A defenseman with a lot of offensive ability, Reilly chose to forego his final season of college eligibility with the Gophers in hopes of making an NHL debut. Reilly was originally picked in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, but made a decision to embrace his free agency, signing with a different team. After interest from various teams from around the league, Reilly decided to sign a contract with his hometown team, the Minnesota Wild. The 6’1″ defenseman is not massive out on the ice, but he still finds a way to set his teammates up as well as score goals, illustrated by his 42 points (six goals, 36 assists) in his 39 games played this past season with the Gophers. Even though he is an offensive defenseman, he still is able to prevent his opponent from scoring, as shown by his +25 plus/minus during his junior season with the Gophers. He may start the 2015-16 season in the AHL, but it would not be surprising to see him make his NHL debut, and maybe even become a regular face on the ice for the Wild. If this is the case, he will probably be a last-string defenseman, but as his experience grows, he could eventually get Suter-like minutes in the next couple of years. He would bring more offense to the Wild’s picture, which they definitely need, while also playing excellent defense. He seems to be an all-around player that the Wild need, so it will not be surprising if he gets some NHL ice time this season.
Joel Eriksson Ek
Eriksson Ek, a native of Karlstad, Sweden, was drafted 20th overall by the Minnesota Wild in this year’s NHL Draft. The 18-year-old was signed to a three-year contract on July 13th, making him eligible to play in the NHL this upcoming season. Eriksson Ek displayed a lot of talent in the Minnesota Wild’s prospect scrimmages, giving many fans hope that he could be a star player for the team within the next few years. This past season, Eriksson Ek tallied six points (four goals, two assists) in 34 games with Farjestad of the Swedish Hockey League. Although six points may not seem like much, it was the most scored by any under-18 eligible player in the league. Even though he has shown to have a lot of talent, he will most likely not spend a ton of time in the NHL this year. He may make his NHL debut, depending on how well he plays, but it would be a little surprising to see him as a regular in the Wild’s lineup this year. Don’t get me wrong, he will most likely be a key player for the Wild in the upcoming years, but right now he is still an 18-year-old kid, who is not quite NHL ready. Once he adds more experience to his plate, it would not be surprising if he becomes an impact player on the Wild roster, and could be a piece necessary for a Stanley Cup run.