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Coyotes’ Ekman-Larsson selected to second NHL All-Star Game; Matthews, too


Los Angeles Kings v Arizona Coyotes

For the first time, the anxiety level was through the roof.

Plus, there was a different format.

This time, Arizona Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson jumps in the 2018 NHL All-Star Game with a different look and distinct feel.


Named to the Pacific Division squad, Ekman-Larsson enters the game with a less-than starry-eyed approach from when he was named to the 2015 mid-season classic. This time, there is a different disposition and more congenial atmosphere.

“For the first game, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I had my mom and dad there with me, and hung out with them. Now, I’ll have a chance to really get to know and play with the best players in the world, and that’s a great honor.”

Plus, the format for the 2018 contest in Tampa changed. Now, it’s a 3-on-3 game where skills are accentuated, and abilities enhanced. Not only is the pace of the game faster, but the proficiency of each player greatly heightened. That’s something Ekman-Larsson says he can appreciate.

Aside from the actual game, the skills competition is an integral part of the weekend’s festivities.

In the 2017 event at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, then-Coyotes goalie Mike Smith drove the puck from behind his own goal line and into a small opening more than 200 feet down the rink, and into the net. Not only did that create a mini earthquake of applause inside the arena, but reached near-legend proportions.

In this skills competition, Ekman-Larsson asserts, he has, unlike Smith, no rendezvous with destiny.

“Probably my biggest skill is skating, and I’m not very fast,” he said. “Maybe passing and stickhandling. Whatever they ask me to do, I’m be happy just to participate.”

With his second All-Star appearance, the growth and maturity in Ekman-Larsson is evident. From a pure, offensive-oriented defenseman, his work from the blue line has evolved, and his overall play about the rink continues to draw praise.

“He is a dynamic, offensive defenseman who always plays against the other team’s best players,” said Coyotes assistant coach Scott Allen. “What he does doesn’t show up in the win-loss column, and what we would like from Oliver is what we ask of all players. We want each player to be more consistent, and that goes for even the best of players.”

For the 2018 game, Ekman-Larsson makes his second appearance for the Coyotes franchise, one short of the franchise mark held by Keith Tkachuk.

“Let’s hope Oliver is on his way to surpassing Keith in the coming years,” smiled Allen.

In another Arizona connection, Scottsdale native Auston Matthews was named to the team in his second season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Matthews, the first-overall selection of the 2016 NHL Draft, has 19 goals and 33 points in 35 games so far this season.

He was last season’s Calder Memorial Trophy winner as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year and also played in the 2017 NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

As a youth, Matthews played for the Arizona Bobcats.

Photo/Norm Hall

— Mark Brown

(Jan. 11, 2018)