Mattias Ekholm was a player that had an outside shot making the Team Sweden roster at this year’s World Cup of Hockey at the beginning. There were plenty of talented defensemen that the Swedes could have added to their roster when the final squads were announced on May 27, but the Tre Kronor picked Ekholm.
The Nashville Predators’ defenseman managed beat out talented blue-liners like the Dallas Stars’ John Klingberg and the Anaheim Ducks’ Hampus Lindholm. The Dallas defenseman’s omission made many top snubs list, but Ekholm deserves a spot on the team. The 26-year-old was called “one of the most underappreciated defensemen in the NHL” by ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside.
It’s been a breakout season for the 2010-11 Elitserien (Swedish League) Rookie of the Year, as he finished with career-highs in goals (8), assists (27) and points (35). He stepped his game up in the postseason with three goals and four assists in the Nashville’s 14 games.
This September’s World Cup gives Ekholm a chance to shine in front of a worldwide stage to some that may not known him that well.
Mattias Ekholm Honing His Game
The Borlänge, Sweden native played a handful of games before getting a full-time spot in the lineup in the 2012-13 season. Ekholm has managed to increase his points totals each year since he’s been a full-time roster member.
Ekholm may not get the recognition that other Predators’ defensemen like captain Shea Weber and the perennially underrated Roman Josi. However, the Swedish defender has been a steady hand the last few seasons.
He turned around a -8 plus/minus rating in the 2013-14 season to +12 in 2014-15 and a +14 this season. The stat is deceptive at times, but it shows that he and Ellis are a solid duo and one of the most unheralded pairings in the league.
Ekholm not only turned up the playoff scoring, but he managed to score goals at the right time. All of his playoff-goals managed to either tie or give the Predators a lead.
That was a carryover from the regular season where Ekholm had a career-high in game-winning goals with three. He even got the first 3-on-3 OT-winner in franchise history on Jan. 2. The goal showed off his offensive skills and his ability to stay cool under pressure.
Coming Out Party
Ekholm will now get a chance to team up with Filip Forsberg on Team Sweden and the squad is one of the favorites to challenge Canada for the crown or at least get a medal.
He is not as well-known as his Nashville teammate and countryman, but this tournament will be a chance for a wider audience to see his emerging game. The two are part of a larger Swedish contingent that was very helpful in the Predators making their postseason run.
Ekholm, Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Viktor Arvidsson and Petter Granberg are all Swedish players that chipped in this season for the Preds. Nashville also has fellow Swedes Pontus Aberg and Max Gortz in the system. Forsberg is the most known of the Nordic contingent, but a good performance by Ekholm could get people talking about him.
There are some that will argue for Klingberg over Ekholm, and the Stars’ playmaker should have made the team. However, the Nashville blue-liner has earned his place on the team. He’s got the potential to silence the doubters once the big tournament rolls around in a few months.