NHL.com released a poll on Friday ranking their top 14 defensemen in the league and coming in at number 12 on this list was Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Swedish defenseman is only 23 years old, but he has quickly become one of the top blueliners in not only the league, but the world as well. As one of five Coyotes players selected to represent their country in the 2014 Winter Olympics last February in Sochi, Ekman-Larsson earned a silver medal as a member of the Swedish national team. While Ekman-Larsson’s skills on defense have made him a solid player at that position, it is his impressive abilities on offense that put him on a higher level.
The Early Years of Ekman-Larsson
Interestingly enough, Ekman-Larsson’s career in the NHL also began overseas. Selected by the Coyotes with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Ekman-Larsson made his debut on October 9, 2010 when the then-Phoenix Coyotes faced the Boston Bruins in Prague, Czech Republic. Ekman-Larsson recorded his first career NHL point on October 23, 2010 against the Carolina Hurricanes and notched his first career NHL goal on January 17, 2011 against the San Jose Sharks. After finishing his rookie year with 11 points in 48 games, Ekman-Larsson would begin to make his mark on the league’s landscape in his sophomore year. He racked up 32 points in the 2011-12 NHL season, which ranked second on the team in terms of scoring by defenseman and seventh on the team in overall scoring. Ekman-Larsson’s biggest offensive contribution came when he notched his first career NHL playoff goal in the second period of Game 6 of the Coyotes’ first-round series against the Chicago Blackhawks. That was the only goal he scored during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, but it would end up being the goal that put the Coyotes into the second round of the playoffs for the first time since moving from Winnipeg.
Last Season: Honing The Craft
Ekman-Larsson’s offensive prowess continued to flourish last season as he set career highs in goals (15), assists (29), points (44) and power-play goals (8). The Coyotes had one of their best seasons in franchise history with the man advantage last year and Ekman-Larsson played a vital role in getting the power play to work well. His 22 points on the power play was second-most on the team, only trailing defensive partner Keith Yandle. Ekman-Larsson also recorded six game-winning goals in 2013-14, which tied him with Matt Niskanen of the Pittsburgh Penguins for most GWG by a defenseman. In the offensive zone, Ekman-Larsson has made a habit of making opposing teams pay when he has the time and room to put the puck on net. He can also make use of his stick-handing skills to work his way in close as he demonstrated when he scored a highlight-reel goal against the Boston Bruins on March 22.
Looking Towards The Future
Oliver Ekman-Larsson has become one of the best offensive defenseman in the game today. His exceptional playing style has received praise from around the league, including from Nicklas Lidstrom, the former Detroit Red Wings captain and fellow Swede. It remains to be seen whether Ekman-Larsson will be able to follow in the footsteps of Lidstrom, who won the Norris Trophy seven times during his illustrious 20-year career. However, it is safe to say that Ekman-Larsson is on the right track towards leaving his own legacy in the NHL.
Charles Woodall-Pike is a journalist who writes about the Arizona Coyotes for The Hockey Writers.