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Coyotes’ veteran Ekman-Larsson: ‘Good things will happen’

 

Los Angeles Kings v Arizona Coyotes

With designation as one of the elite players in the game, there is a clear responsibility that comes with distinction.

For Arizona Coyotes’ All-Star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, that duty remains the upmost desire to get better, improve and find ways to help his team win. In the early part of the season, the Coyotes failed to win their initial four games, but the spirit and ability which moved Ekman-Larsson to the front of NHL players has not abated.

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While he continues to receive accolades for both his past performance on the ice and leadership skills in the dressing room, the 26-year-old Swede remains quiet and unassuming.

Behind the smile and easy disposition lays the beat of a hockey player draped in skill and overwhelmed by desire. The fact the Coyotes have not qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs since the spring of the 2012 is, to Ekman-Larsson, both frustrating and challenging. Above all, the stellar defenseman remains the heart and soul of this team.

When captain Shane Doan retired this past summer, rumors started that Ekman-Larsson would assume captaincy of the Coyotes.

Just a few days into training camp, coach Rick Tocchet informed players and the media that no captain would be immediately named. Instead, Ekman-Larson would retain the “A” for alternate captain, and share the responsibility with new defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.

For now, Ekman-Larsson described the importance of placing of the “A” with both pride and accountability.

“With the ‘A,’ they expect me to show up every day, do my best and that’s do all I can do,” he said. “At the same time, help everyone around me to get better. I think being a good teammate is important, and looking after all the players is all I can do. That’s why I’m wearing the ‘A’ on my jersey.”

In the desire to improve his overall game, Ekman-Larsson is the first to recognize the search for excellence is neverending.

“I’ve taken steps to improve every year, and last year was a tough year for me,” he said. “I think I can learn something from that and move forward That’s what I’m looking for right now. I know I have a good first pass, and look to get even better on that. Just get want to get better everywhere in my game, and help this team win.”

Regarded as a swift carrier with the puck and one of the most dangerous defenseman with the disc inside an opponent’s blue line, Ekman-Larsson’s offensive skills are nearly without parallel. It’s the defensive side of his game that needs to be polished.

Last season, Ekman-Larsson recorded a minus-25 rating, and missed the final three games due to the death of his mother.

This season did not start any better.

After the first four games, he was at minus-4 and on the ice for three of the four Detroit goals that extended the Coyotes’ winless streak to four at the start of the season.

Still in his mid-20s, Ekman-Larsson is playing his eighth NHL season, but gleans the perspective of a veteran beyond his years.

By his own acknowledgement, he celebrates the youth of the present Coyotes and, at the same time, recognizes a learning curve at work. If the Coyotes collected anything through the opening weeks of the current season, it is the need to put teams away. Despite losing their initial games, the Coyotes had leads in several games, and Ekman-Larsson is the first to recognize that a change in direction is needed.

“We need to close out games,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. If we have a lead, we can’t sit back, but keep going for the next goal. We have several new guys, a new system, and it takes time. We need to be patient, work hard and I think we’ll get better. Yes, good things will happen.”

Photo/Norm Hall

— Mark Brown

(Nov. 10, 2017)