Oliver Ekman Larsson is the Coyotes next big thing. His development has been amazing to watch in such a short time
When you examine the Phoenix Coyotes roster, you see a mix of proven forwards, journeyman players, a left for dead goaltender who has been reborn and a couple of young up-and-coming players. One of those young players had a breakout year last season. His name is Oliver Ekman-Larsson and the hockey world better take notice because this kid is on his way to stardom in this league.
The Swedish import was the 6th overall pick by the Coyotes in 2009 and after splitting his rookie season between Phoenix and San Antonio of the AHL, Ekman-Larsson proved he belonged last season.
This article will look at five reasons why Ekman-Larsson will be a name that everyone around the NHL will know sooner rather than later.
Ekman-Larsson has played for the Swedish National Team since he was a junior.
Ekman-Larsson has suited up for the Swedish national team three times already at the age of 21. He played in the Under-18 World Championships and the World Junior Championships in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Last season, he played for the senior national team at the IIHF World Championships in Germany where he helped them win a Bronze medal.
The Swedish national system has produced some of the NHL's finest defenseman over the years. Nicklas Lidstrom and Borje Salming are amongst those that Ekman-Larsson has been compared to.
Ekman-Larsson's own grandfather, Kenneth Ekman, suited up as a defenseman for the Swedish National Team in the 1972 Olympics.
A good pedigree means a good deal when it comes to how you play the game. Although Ekman-Larsson will have to earn his stripes, he has shown already that he was brought up with the set of skills to make him a dependable, rock-solid defenseman in this league for years to come.
Ekman-Larsson skating by the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals last season for the Coyotes
The 6'2, 190 lbs. Ekman-Larsson is a long-legged strider. He gobbles up ice and uses his long strides to close down speedy and shifty forwards that come his way.
While not the fastest on the ice, Ekman-Larsson is sneaky quick as you can see when he jumps up into the play as the Coyotes move up the ice in transition. His offensive abilities are partially predicated by the fact that he can get himself into position using his speed to create offensive chances.
Defenseman like this are tough to find and one who jumps up into the play, must be able to get back on defense. He also uses his speed to get himself back in position to swallow up counter-attacks. His ability to use skating prowess to perform well on both ends of the ice make him a rare commodity in the league today.
Ekman-Larsson fires a shot from the point against the St. Louis Blues last season.
The young Swede finished last season with 13 goals and 19 assists for 32 points. But, it's what doesn't show up on the score sheet that sticks out to me about Ekman-Larsson.
He has incredible vision on the ice. He springs many odd-man rushes with quick up-ice passes when he sees the opportunity. He finds narrow windows to pass through that puts others in great positions to score.
He can man the point on the power play and move the puck consistently into good positions. He also has a very underrated snap shot from the point and an above-average slap shot.
If you add that he likes to jump up into the play when given the opportunity, Ekman-Larsson yearns to score goals and that mentality is special in a defenseman as long as he is defensively responsible.
Ekman Larsson gets into position against Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins
While not being overly physical, Ekman-Larsson uses his body well to put him in the right position to play solid defense. His style is similar to that of Nicklas Lidstrom in that he uses his stick extremely well to stop defensive opportunities.
Whether it is poke checking an opponent at the right time or using his stick to deflect pucks that are shot at the net, it always seems that he has his stick in the right place at the right time. Not only does that take excellent hand-eye coordination, but precise timing as well.
He finished last season as a zero in the plus/minus category and will only get better as he gets more experience in the league. Once he knows the nuances of his opponents, he will better prepare himself as time goes on to be in even better positions to stop offensive attacks.
Ekman-Larsson plays the game like a veteran already, which will only improve as time goes on.
Although he is only 21 years-old, many feel that Oliver Ekman-Larsson plays the game like a veteran who has spent many years in the NHL. Much of this can be attributed to his upbringing through the Swedish youth leagues, but it takes innate ability and a knowledge of the game to play like he has at this point in his career.
All hockey players make mistakes, but over the past two seasons, you can see how much he has improved in decision making and positioning. For young players, learning from your mistakes is fundamental to your progress. He doesn't need to make multiple mistakes before he makes adjustments to his game. He is quiet by nature on the ice, but listens and absorbs information so that he can make changes to his game when necessary.
He makes the safe play when necessary and the risky one when called for. He jumps into the play when given the opportunity, but knowing how the game is being played helps dictate when he takes those chances. His passing and skating have improved over the past two seasons. He is becoming more comfortable on the ice as time continues and is beginning to be more vocal. His progress is astonishing and something that I feel will only continue as time goes on.
Big things are now expected of this franchise as they reached the Western Conference Finals last season. Ekman-Larsson is one component of a talented defensive group in Phoenix. Look for him to begin to assume more of a leadership role as this season begins. Plan on seeing him in a Coyotes jersey for years to come.
Watch and behold the next big thing for the Phoenix Coyotes. Oliver Ekman-Larsson