He may be Swedish but to me he’s all finish.
Disclaimer: I fully admit to having a bias towards any 17 or
18 year old kid who manages to earn a regular shift in one of the European
Elite Leagues. That’s one of the reasons why I had Nylander ranked third last
year, and that’s why I am falling hard for Joel Eriksson Ek this year.
I will kill any direct comparisons of the two players right
now, by saying that Eriksson Ek is not on the same talent level as Nylander.
What Eriksson lacks in high end offensive talent, he makes up for with being a
center you’d be happy to have on the ice in any situation.
Looking at the expert rankings the interesting outlier is
the beloved Corey Pronman, but the consensus seems to put Eriksson Ek in the
early 20s, with Button being Button and also doing his own thing. We’ll get to
those takes later.
What the numbers tell us about Eriksson Ek is that the
Swedish Hockey League can be difficult place for a teenager. He’s been limited
to four goals and two assists in his 34 games there and has primarily served in
a limited bottom six role. Fun fact, Eriksson Ek plays on a team with fellow likely
first rounder Oliver Kylington, and former Leafs Rickard Wallin and Justin
So while his numbers against fully developed players in
limited ice time leaves a lot to be desired, the same isn’t true of his totals
against his peer group. In the Swedish U-20 league this season Joel scored 21
goals in 25 games (32 points total, 1.28 ppg). He also scored 5 goals in 5
games at the U-18 tournament, and 10 goals, 16 points in the 13 total
international games. This is a continuation of the 16 goal in 19 game
performance that Eriksson Ek had as a 16/17 year old in the U-18 league which
saw him promoted to the U-20 league last season where he managed an over a
point per game pace.
The Eye Test
Any scouting report for Eriksson Ek is littered with the
phrase “200 ft. player” which seems like a bit of deterrent in the post Fredrik
Gauthier world, but as proven in the numbers section above, Eriksson Ek is
above a point per game in every peer league situation he played in, and simply
benefitting from exposure to a different type of role in the Swedish Men’s
League. He’s one of the better skating centers that’s still available, and has
the hands to be an excellent scoring center.
Given their radically different rankings on Joel Eriksson
Ek, it makes sense to see what Craig Button and Corey Pronman have to say about
the Swedish center.
“He is a well-balanced centre who can play in any situation.
He’s an intelligent player who reads the play quickly, taking advantage both
offensively and defensively. Good skills and is comfortable playing in any
style of game and has a strong competitive approach. Maturity will be longer
but potential is high.”
“I wouldn’t classify him as a dominant player, but whether
he’s playing in front of the net on the power play, creating from the side
boards, killing off penalties, checking good players, taking a key draw, or
being the extra man when the team needs a goal, coaches always can rely on
Should He Make the Leafs Shortlist
Hmmm…do I can’t remember, do Swedish centers do well in
Toronto? (please ignore Rickard Wallin when answering this) Obviously I’m not
comparing Eriksson Ek to Mats Sundin, but I will be so bold to compare him to
hastily discarded Alexander Steen whose style of play is remarkably similar to
Maybe I’m looking at drafting Eriksson Ek as righting the
historical wrong of the Stempniak trade, but there is a definite need to establish
depth down the middle, and after Strome and Zacha, Eriksson Ek is the best
opportunity to add a center with size in this draft who is more than just size.