Mar 20, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) scores a goal on Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period at the American Airlines Center. The Stars defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in the overtime shootout. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE
In sports you often see a team with a player who is playing at a professional level at a relatively young age and you realize that you are watching the future of the sport. In Oliver Ekman-Larsson the Coyotes have just that, the future of hockey. OEL is only 20 right now and he is already a top player with the Coyotes, during the regular season only 4 defensemen in the entire NHL scored more goals than he did. In his first playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks he had the longest time on ice, 31:14, and this is the first time he played every game of the season.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is from what we would consider a small town in Sweden called Karlskrona. He has hockey in his blood, his grandfarther Kenneth Ekman was a defenseman for the 1972 Swedish Olympic team for the Sapporo games, a team which finished fourth. OEL has been playing hockey hockey in the Swedish junior leagues since the 2005-2006 season in the Tingsryds and in 2008 he started playing Leksands IF. In his 2008-09 season for Leksand he was first in the league with a plus-44 rating and first in points among under-18 players with 39 points, even though he missed some games playing for the Swedish team in the World Junior Championship, where his team placed third.
Last season was Ekman-Larsson's first season with the Coyotes although he had a limited role last season. He played in 48 games, got a goal and 10 assists, was plus-3 and had an average ice time of 15:02, and he spent a bit of time playing with the Coyotes AHL team the San Antonio Rampage. The Coyotes had drafted the young Swede in the first round, 6th overall, the year prior to him being a Coyote. His first NHL point was an assist to Kyle Turris on October 23, 2010 in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes, a game that the team unfortunately lost in overtime, and his first goal was against the San Jose Sharks on January 17, 2011, which was unfortunately another loss.
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This season required OEL to step up and play more than he had before, and boy did he step up. The Coyotes had a few injuries on the blue line which required the veterans to play more and even though this was only his second year with the Coyotes and his previous career high for games was only 52 in the Leksands in Sweden Ekman-Larsson played 82 games this season. In addition to playing in more games he is also playing more in games, his average time on ice this past season was second only to Keith Yandle's time of 22:34 and that is leading to his increased offensive numbers. OEL lead the Coyotes defensemen in goals, assists, and points, and by the end of the season he had scored more than many of the forwards. With one playoff game down we are still waiting to see the impact that Oliver Ekman-Larsson will have on the outcome, so far in his first game he had the most time on the ice and was a minus-1.