Oliver Ekman-Larsson is one of the premier defensemen in the league. Belonging in the same breathe as guys like Drew Doughty, Kris Letang and Shea Weber. He is as offensive as he is defensive. Plays a good two-way game and can rack up points as well. If he had some offensive weapons in his time with the Arizona Coyotes, imagine what he could do. He’s got no one to pass to. Since his insertion in the league, his best weapon has been Mikkel Boedker or a younger Shane Doan. With Doan nearing the end of his career, Ekman-Larsson is finally getting some talent to play with in names like Anthony Duclair and Max Domi.
Now only 24-years-old, the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft plays like veteran. He has gone through ups and many downs with the Phoenix, now Arizona Coyotes. These trials and tribulations have sculpted Oliver into one of the best defensemen in the league. Only having five NHL years under his belt, he is a household name in many cases and being buried in a not so hockey orientated state like Arizona, that says a lot.
He’s a slick skating six-foot, 200 pound defensemen with offensive upside hailing from Sweden, something they seem to have a factory that produces talent like that. Fellow Sweden natives, Erik Karlsson, Niklas Lidstrom, John Klingberg and Oliver Kylington all fit this mold. Great puck moving and agile skaters who can defend well.
Last season, Ekman-Larsson broke the record for the most goals scored by a Swedish defensemen. He tallied 23 goals by the end of the season, collecting 43 points on a team that didn’t have much offensive punch. Arizona scored 170 goals, giving up 272. That’s a goal differential of -102 goals. It brought Oliver’s +/- to -18, the lowest mark of his NHL career. His Coyotes finished with only 24 wins and second-to-last in the standings.
With the group of young talent like Max Domi, Dylan Strome and Anthony Duclair, Oliver will finally have some offensive help. Speedy forwards he can send break out passes to and work with on the powerplay. In 23 games this season, he has five goals and 15 points. He’s on pace for 50+ points and his Arizona Coyotes have surprised many critics going 13-9-0-1 early in the season. They have already collected almost half as many points they had all of last year in under a third of the season. Already playing at a high level, with the new faces the Coyotes have added and goalie Mike Smith having a much better campaign this time around, it's time to see more of what Ekman-Larsson can do.