The number 23 is one of the more interesting numbers in Coyotes history. Eighteen players have worn the number and they vary from veterans at the end of their careers to young up and comers attempting to make their mark in the league. There have also been players whose careers reached their peak in a Jet/Coyote sweater. In the end, three skaters separate themselves from the pack and vie for the right to be called the best.
Lucien Dublois was a well-travelled center who spent 15 years in the NHL with 6 different teams, including 2 sperate stints with both the New York Rangers and the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets first acquired him in the summer of 1981 in a trade with the Colorado Rockies. His best years in the NHL were all spent in a Jets sweater over the next three seasons including having a career year in 1982-83 by scoring 34 goals and 79 points in 80 games.
Paul Mara was young defenseman and a former top 10 pick in the 1997 draft when the Coyotes acquired him along with Mike Johnson on March 5th, 2001 for estranged goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and Stan Neckar. Mara had appeared in 101 games for the Lightning, but he would triple that number for the Coyotes over the next 5 seasons. He established himself as the Yotes powerplay quaterback on the blueline, scoring 12 powerplay goals and adding 55 assists in 323 games as a Coyote. He'd be traded to Boston for Nick Boynton, a more defensive minded d-man at the 2006 entry draft.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson has only played in 3 NHL seasons since being the number 6 overall pick at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, but is quickly establishing himself as one of the best young defenseman in the game. He was phenomenal as a second year player during the Coyotes first division winning season in 2011-12 scoring scoring 13 goals and 32 points while playing in all 82 games. He was even better during the playoffs, scoring 4 points with one goal (the game winning and series clinching PP tally in game six against the Blackhawks) while playing the most minutes of any Coyote skater, an unbelievable feat for a postseason newcomer.
How does one even begin to choose between these three skaters? Well, let's take it to the numbers and see what they have to say.
- 1981-1982: 65 GP, 25 G, 27 A, 52 P, -10, 87 PIMS, 4 STP
- 1982-1983: 79 GP, 27 G, 27 A, 54 P, -25, 69 PIMS, 12 STP
- 1982-1983: 80 GP, 34 G, 45 A, 79 P, -15, 50 PIMS, 23 STP
- 1991-1992: 11 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 P, +1, 2 PIMS, 0 STP
- TOTAL: 235 GP, 87 G, 101 A, 188 P, -49, 208 PIMS, 39 STP
- 2000-2001: 16 GP, 0 G, 4 A , 4 P, +1, 14 PIMS, 2 STP
- 2001-2002: 75 GP, 7 G, 17 A, 24 P, -6, 58 PIMS, 7 STP
- 2002-2003: 73 GP, 10 G, 15 A, 25 P, -7, 78 PIMS, 6 STP
- 2003-2004: 81 GP, 6 G, 36 A, 42 P, -11, 48 PIMS, 25 STP
- 2005-2006: 78 GP, 15 G, 32 A , 47 P, -12, 70 PIMS, 29 STP
- TOTAL: 323 GP, 38 G, 104 A, 142 P, -35, 268 PIMS, 69 STP
- 2010-2011: 48 GP, 1 G, 10 A, 11 P, +3, 24 PIMS, 2 STP
- 2011-2012: 82 GP, 13 G, 19 A, 32 P, +0, 32 PIMS, 9 STP
- 2012-2013: 48 GP, 3 G, 21 A, 24 P, +5, 26 PIMS, 8 STP
- TOTAL: 178 GP, 17 G, 50 A, 67 P, +8, 82 PIMS, 19 STP
(GP = games played, G = goals, A = assists, P = points, PIMS = penalty minutes, STP = special teams points)
After crunching the numbers, the conclusion is pretty obvious at this time. While there may be little doubt that before his career is over, OEL will be the greatest #23 in Coyote history (and one of the best all-time, period), for the moment that honor belongs to Paul Mara. He is currently the 10th best defensive scorer in franchise history and 4th best as a Coyote. His 55 powerplay assists are 19th best in franchise history and 8th best for a defenseman. Mara was certainly not the all-around defensive player that Oliver is but you can't deny the impact Mara provided. From 2001-2006, he was the Coyotes 5th leading scorer behind only Shane Doan, Ladislav Nagy, Daymond Langkow and trade partner Mike Johnson. He may not hold the honor much longer, but for now Paul Mara is the greatest #23 in Coyotes history.
Do you agree with this statement? Vote now and voice your opinion in the comments.