The Phoenix Coyotes finished the 2008-09 season with a 36-39-7 record, a result that gave the franchise a high draft pick. The 2009 NHL Draft showcased a plethora of talent for franchises to select from. Former Coyotes general manager Don Maloney needed to find a solid puck moving defenseman, who played well in his own defensive zone, and also demonstrated offensive upside. With Swede Victor Hedman off the board at second overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Maloney went and selected fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson with the sixth overall pick.
Ekman-Larsson made his NHL debut with the Coyotes on October 9, 2010, against the Boston Bruins notching a +1 rating. A few nights later on October 23, he notched his first ever point with the franchise when he assisted on Kyle Turris‘ second goal of the evening. On January 17, 2011, Ekman-Larsson notched his first career NHL goal on former San Jose Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi in a 4-2 loss. He finished the 2010-11 season playing 48 games notching 1 goal and ten assists with a +3 rating and 24 PIM. The Coyotes were able to make it to the playoffs in 2010 with an impressive 43-26-13 record that unfortunately saw them be eliminated in the Quarterfinals by the Detroit Red Wings.
The following season, Ekman-Larsson stepped up his point production as well as saw an increase in his ice time. He played an entire season with the Coyotes and was able to create a solid point line when he found the net 13 times and assisted fellow players 19 times providing for 32 points. The Coyotes were very successful that year in which they posted an astounding 42-27-13 record, a record that helped the franchise clinch its first and only Pacific Division to-date. Phoenix eliminated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 in the Conference Quarterfinals as well as the Nashville Predators 4-1 in the Conference Semifinals. Unfortunately, the franchise’s efforts at securing a Stanley Cup were halted when the Los Angeles Kings completed a 4-1 series win and continued on to with the Stanley Cup.
The 2012 season was an abbreviated one as the NHL went into a lockout, the first such movement since the 2004-05 season. Each team was to play a 48-game schedule. Oliver’s point production dipped but he still contributed a solid individual effort: putting 3 goals in the back of the net and providing 21 additional helpers led to a 24 point contribution for the Coyotes. At season’s end, Oliver’s contract expired and the Coyotes realized that they needed to make an effort to maintain their hybrid defenseman. General manager Don Maloney agreed to maintain his services with a six-year, $33 million deal.
Following the contract extension, Oliver’s points production flourished incredibly. In the 2013-14 season, he scored a remarkable 15 times and distributed 29 helpers that led to 44 points while playing in 80 games. The following season, the sixth overall pick of the 2009 NHL Draft led the team in scoring with 23 goals and providing 20 assists with an overall contribution of 43 points. Last season, Oliver set a career-high in points with 21 goals and 34 assists that gave him 55 points. The Swedish blue liner has proved his value to the franchise with these two fantastic efforts.
While the Coyotes have had underwhelming season efforts since making the playoffs in the 2011-12 season, Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a catalyst for this rebuilding franchise. The Coyotes have a sufficient pipeline of offensive and defensive talent to use at their disposal while they look to contend in the next few years. Oliver serves a vital anchor for the players going forward. His ability to quickly move the puck efficiently, play well away from the puck, and shoot the puck are excellent characteristics of this young and promising defenseman.
This season has been a down season for Oliver however as he has solely contributed 10 goals and distributed the puck 24 times for a sum amount of 34 points. Many fans see Oliver’s game diminish over the duration of the season, but fans should not be quick to write off the young defender’s game from the past two seasons. Last season, he broke the NHL record for the most game-winning goals by a defenseman with eight. Oliver has been the team’s number one defenseman since 2009 and when the Coyotes acquired Alex Goligoski from the Dallas Stars, the pressure to become the number one defenseman somewhat heightened. Many see Oliver’s play as lackluster yet there are those who know that he is a high-caliber player when he is on top of his game.
The Arizona Coyotes have multiple talented players at their disposal both now and coming up. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is one of the many current players that the Coyotes should look to locking up as a life-time member. He is bound to rebound from his current offensive slump and continue to produce while under contract. Coyotes fans should be pleased to know they have a quality player going forward in guiding the young members of the franchise in hopes of a playoffs appearance as well as a Stanley Cup run.
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