It is no secret the Arizona Coyotes have struggled to turn high first round picks into franchise cornerstones since moving to the desert. However, under general manager Don Maloney, the team has undoubtedly been more successful. No two players represent the shift in success on draft day from the team's early years in the Valley to now more than the only two Swedish players the Coyotes have used a first round pick on.
Fredrik Sjostrom and Oliver Ekman-Larsson were drafted eight years apart, each with the expectation of making a major impact for years to come. Drafted 11th overall and sixth overall respectively, the two Swedes have achieved two very different levels of success in their Coyotes careers, with one notable exception.
Aside from the Swedish and first round pick connection, Sjostrom and Ekman-Larsson share another link--career goals as Coyotes, as both men have lit the lamp 32 times as a member of the Desert Dogs. That statistic in and of itself explains the chasm between their two careers.
Sjostrom's Coyotes career ended on Feb. 26, 2008 after he was traded to the New York Rangers, along with Josh Gratton, David LeNeveu and a conditional fifth round pick, in exchange for Al Montoya and Marcel Hossa. The now 31-year-old played a little more than 3.5 seasons in the Valley scoring just 73 points in 261 games.
While Sjostrom managed only 32 goals as a forward, Ekman-Larsson has already matched that total in 258 games despite playing on the blueline. The 23-year-old has quickly become a fan favorite and a trendy pick by many to be the next superstar defenseman. OEL is the undisputed No. 1 defenseman on a defensively-strong team that includes All-Star Keith Yandle. With 111 points, OEL is already tied for 54th on the franchise's all-time leaderboard.
Only time will tell whether the current Coyotes regime can make up for previous regimes' draft day mistakes. The lack of top-end talent acquired through the draft has put the Coyotes at as much of a disadvantage on the ice as the lack of ownership did off it. Recent Stanley Cup winning teams built their teams' cores through the amateur draft, which is the only cost-effective way to build a contender.
Sjostrom's selection symbolizes past mistakes that helped keep the Coyotes out of the postseason for six seasons in the mid-2000s, while Ekman-Larsson is well on his way to surpassing the lofty expectations of a top-10 selection.