Packing up his things as he prepared to leave the Bell Centre in Montreal after the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Phoenix Coyotes' GM Don Maloney had no idea he'd end up with two of the highest ranked Swedish defensemen in that year's draft.
The first card he'd play would be the Coyotes' first round sixth overall pick. Drafting the Karlskrona native, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Maloney as well as the NHL Central Scouting Bureau had high praises for the then 18-year old Swedish defensemen. Originally ranked fourth among European skaters Ekman-Larsson offered the offensive skill set to offer a helping hand in scoring in addition to anchoring down the blue line.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson would return to his team in Sweden for the 2009-'10 season. He signed an entry-level contract with Phoenix in May of 2010 and made the Coyotes roster out of training camp. He would have his ups and down during his first campaign in North America. In the middle of the season would find himself sent down to the AHL's San Antonio Rampage. During his short stint in San Antonio, Oliver would light the lamp three times and finish with 10 points in 15 games before being called back up to the majors. Unfortunately for some their time in the minors wouldn't be as short lived.
On Bad Terms
Having been originally drafted 3rd overall, Kyle Turris was expected to follow in the footsteps of his draft's top alumni; Patrick Kane and James van Riemsdyk. Sadly for Turris, the Coyotes, and the fans, it wouldn't work out as well for the New Westminster, BC forward. Only appearing in 137 games during his five seasons with the Phoenix franchise, Turris only had 19 goals and 46 points.
Frustrations would reach an all time high come July 1, 2011 when Turris became a restricted-free agent. Extremely upset over his development in the Coyotes system and overall lack of ice time in the majors a lengthly contract dispute began. While a majority of fault would land on the shoulders of the flustered forward, the blame could also be contributed to having been drafted into and developed in a system overseen by Wayne Gretzky. A system that was known for it's major flaws in rushing new talent into the majors. Now asking for a contract that would see him paid 3-4 million for an undisclosed term, Turris and his agent would later admit that a trade was the real reason for the dispute and not a huge amount of money. After a four month long hold out, Kyle would returned to the ice with a brand-new deal that would see him paid 2.8 million dollars over two season.
But before the ink was dry on his new contract with the Coyotes, Turris was traded off to Ottawa in a deal that would send David Rundblad and a second round draft pick in the 2012 draft to Phoenix.
The freshly swapped defensemen would join the Coyotes on the road and skate only six games, recording three assists in his short stint. Finding himself hung up on adjusting to North American ice rinks, Rundblad's progression would plateau in his remaining time with the Senators and in Phoenix after the trade. The 22 year old was sent down to AHL's Portland Pirates to further develop his skills. In 30 games, Rundblad would finish his AHL season with 7 goals and 16 points.
Locked and Loaded
Fast forward to September 15, 2012. A locked out Oliver Ekman-Larsson gets the nod to join his fellow Swede and other Coyotes prospects in minors. Portland, which is now overflowing with blue line talent opted to have their D roster take turns dressing for games immediately sees the extra boost and catapults into second place in the AHL standings. By the half way point of their season with the Phoenix farm team, both defensemen hit the 20+ point marker with Rundblad leading the two in assists with 17 and six goals. But trailing extremely close behind, OEL has scored seven goals with 21 points in his time in Portland. Averaging a point a game, Oliver Ekman-Larsson continues to turn heads. He displays the strong offensive skills he did for fans in Phoenix. While Rundblad continues to work on the prgoress hes made in the last season. Finding his feet on North American ice plagued the young defensemen in his early days but now looks as if it's begun to correct itself.
Now pulling away from the pack, Rundblad and fellow defensive prospect Michael Stone are set to enter training camp in hopes of finding a spot on this season's roster. Stone, who showed the coaching staff as well as fans what he can do with a little ice time (1g, 2a in 13 games) will try and build off the momentum of last season's call up while Rundblad looks to show Dave Tippett and Co. that he's ready to compete at the major level having fine tuned his skills in Portland.