NHL Network analysts think Wild should trade Eric Staal

Could the Wild get a first-round pick for Staal?
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"Minnesota will get a first-round draft pick for Eric Staal."  

Those are the words of NHL Network analyst Dave Reid, who led a discussion on Monday night about what the Wild should do with Staal, who is an unrestricted free agent after the season. 

While getting a first-round pick for Staal might be a stretch, the reasons for trading him offered up by Reid and his colleague, , make sense. 

"The message could be that we've got younger players who we want to give more opportunity to, because we know that they can step up right now," said Reid, who likened Minnesota's situation with Staal to what the Blues had last season with Paul Statsny. 

Still in the playoff picture, like the Wild currently are, the Blues dealt Statsny to the Winnipeg Jets because they knew they wouldn't be able to re-sign him in the offseason. Rather than hold on to an aging player for the stretch run, they received long-term value in a trade and still made it to the playoffs. 

The NHL Network crew mentioned Winnipeg and Vegas as possible trade partners with the Wild because both could use a player like Staal to center their second lines. 

So who takes Staal's spot at center if he's traded?

Joel Erikkson Ek would be an option.

"You need them to take the next step and get better, but the only way they're going to get better is being put in situations where they're challenged," said NHL Network's Scott Stevens, who was an assistant coach with the Wild during the 2016-17 season. 

Related: Why now is the perfect time for the Wild to sell

Erikkson Ek is an interesting case because he looked like a potential star after the Wild took the Swede 20th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But he's been slow to go as a pro to the point that the Wild sent him down to the Iowa Wild in the American Hockey League to work on his offense. 

That trip to Iowa was short-lived as he was recalled last week following Mikko Koivu's season-ending knee injury. But in his nine games in Iowa he scored four goals and had nine points, once again flashing the production the Wild think he's capable of. 

Why has he struggled in the NHL? According to The Athletic, it might have a lot to do with playing with rookies and fourth liners like Daniel Winnick and Marcus Foligno, who he's spent more ice time with than any other duo. 

And so far so good as Minnesota's third-line center. In three games since being recalled, he has two goals and a plus-three rating, and he's done that with just over 15 minutes of ice time per game. 

If Staal is traded and Erikkson Ek moves up to the second line, he could be looking at 18-20 minutes per game, which would give him more opportunity to produce and play alongside better players. 

The NHL trade deadline hits at 2 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 25. 

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