It is no secret to Arizona Coyotes fans that Oliver Ekman-Larsson is one of the best defensemen in the game today. His inclusion on the Swedish National Team for the World Cup of Hockey is further evidence of his prowess.
But it has not always been a rosy relationship between OEL and the Swedish National Team. And OEL will join a blue-line that is stacked with impressive talent such as Erik Karlsson, Viktor Hedman, and Anton Stralman.
Patrik Bexall of Habs Eyes on the Prize was able to catch up with Ekman-Larsson at Swedish training camp before the World Cup gets underway. Here's what Oliver Ekman-Larsson had to say about Sweden, training, and growing up watching Niklas Lidstrom.
(The following interview has been edited solely for clarity)
You have had some dust ups with the National team coaches before, do you feel that you are trusted to play this time?
We have put that behind us now, and to be fair you are getting a bit tired of being asked that question everytime. We will get back to that at all times I guess. Still it is better than what Nicklas Bäckström has to go though, this is related to hockey so it is a valid question. At the same time I have to say I think there were seven other defenders that [were] very good too. I knew it was going to be a tough competition.
It was their decision to make, and I could have done things to have impressed them more. I have no hard feelings when it comes down to it now; I have spoken to Pär Mårdhs and Peter Popovic and it’s all in the past. Popovic is still here so it is good that it’s water under the bridge.
I have been in the national team after that situation too, and it’s all over, way in the past.
You have developed as an outstanding defender in Arizona, you might even be considered one of the team's best players. How is it to return to Sweden and be part of a team where you are "one in the bunch"?
It is so much fun, to get a chance to be part of a team like this is amazing. You get go play with Hank and the Sedins. Damn, I can call out the whole team really. Players you are not used to play[ing] with all the time. It gives you a bit of a boost, some new inspiration. It is the tournament we have all looked forward to for ages.
And it has benefitted you through the summer training?
-Yes of course, it was a bit difficult the first week when you started, but at the same time you knew what was coming and it meant it was quite easy to go for a practice or two.
You will get to play with Niklas Hjalmarsson from the looks of it; how will it be to play with such a player? And how are you going to share the responsibilities between you?
-Things can change during a tournament we have to remember that; but first and foremost he is an amazingly good defender, but many overlook or choose not to see how good offensively he is. He is really underrated when it comes to the offensive side of the puck. He makes it so easy to play for his partner, he speaks a lot and he is very authoritative on the ice too.
Is it Niklas Lidström that is responsible for the growth of young Swedish defenders taking over in the NHL?
He has a huge part of it, but at the same time the work by the youth coaches and the Swedish ice Hockey Association really helps too.
But of course I started to play defence because Lidström was playing that position. It looked so easy when he played so I thought this might be easy to do…but it wasn’t!
There is no better player to have to look up to when you start playing, you still get a bit small (like a child) when he steps into the room. It is the same thing with Daniel Alfredsson and Mats Sundin though, it is great to have such legends around. The ones missing would be Börje Salming and Peter Forsberg. But to have legends like that around the team is invaluable.