When talking to other hockey fans about the Phoenix Coyotes one of the questions that is always asked is if the defense will be strong enough in the future.
Until recently I would be asking the same question. The departure of Keith Ballard in the Olli Jokinen trade was a huge blow to the future blue line. With the drafting tendencies going towards forwards with talent, the organization has been forced to draft blue-liners late in the draft and hope for the best, leaving a depth chart on the back end that is not exactly a star studded cast.
However, that all changed when the Coyotes went to Montreal for the 2009 NHL Draft. Their first pick was spent on the skilled Swedish defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson who played for Leksand over in Sweden. He will return there for the coming season but his skill set is very high on both ends of the ice. He is highly praised for his offensive abilities with passing as one of his strong points. He can skate very well and always seems to be in position. He may need to add size but the Coyotes certainly are not going to rush a prospect who has been compared to a poor man's Nick Lidstrom. Some even went as far to say that he will end up better than fellow countryman Victor Hedman.
Larsson really shined at the World Junior Championships for Sweden as he had eight points in six games for the Tre Kronor. He was one of the best defenseman at the tournament and raised his draft stock with his performance.
However, Larsson was not the only player at the WJC that impressed the Coyotes. Maxim Goncharov of Russia had his coming out party in Ottawa. His six points, five of them goals, at the WJC for Russia were critical to him getting on the map. What was even more impressive, and more exciting for the Phoenix Coyotes, was his defensive zone play. He was highly praised and was considered one of the top defenseman at the tournament.
With the development of these two young players, the blue line of the Phoenix Coyotes will only get stronger. Add them to a supporting cast of young defenseman like Keith Yandle, Zbynek Michalek, Chris Summers, Nick Ross, Jonas Ahnelov, and more, the Coyotes blue line could become very formidable. Combine this group with the forward corps of Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal, and others, the Coyotes could be well on their way to being a contender in the West.