EDMONTON – In the first game in which he wore a different National Hockey League uniform than the Arizona Coyotes, Oliver Ekman-Larsson logged 23:53 ice time, played half of the third period and overtime, and finished with three hits and one goal. He also wore an ‘A’ for the Vancouver Canucks.
Wednesday night was a good start to the rest of his career.
It may be years before we know if the Canucks were right to bet on the Swedish defender who arrived in the successful July trade with a balance of $ 43.56 million payable over the next six years.
But from day one of training camp, Ekman-Larsson has not seemed the crumbling defender many have argued with analytics safety.
At worst, the 30-year-old has been seen for three weeks as one of the four best blue liners in the NHL. At best, he shows signs of being the physically compromised two-way defender who was a regular honorable mention on Norris Trophy ballots until three seasons ago.
“I was telling the guys after a couple of skates in training camp there, I felt like I was 18 again,” Ekman-Larsson said before the Canucks opened their season with a 3-2 shooting loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday. “I was running around and hitting people and playing around with that chip on my shoulder. It feels like a new beginning. “
Along with the towering Tyler Myers, who finally amassed some goodwill from Canuck fans by crushing hitman Duncan Keith, who landed Daniel Sedin a decade ago, Ekman-Larsson was one of five Vancouver skaters who they finished in analytically positive territory against the Oilers.
In the Swede’s 7:18 five-on-five against Connor McDavid, the Canucks outshot the Oilers 3-2.
Subsequently, Ekman-Larsson said he was “honored” to be named a substitute captain on his new team.
“I think he looks a lot like the player we envision,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “I have also been impressed by his leadership qualities, his practice habits. He seems very excited to be here. We are happy with the transition so far. He’s a good player. “
“I was expecting it to be a tough move, obviously, after being in Arizona for so long and building a life there,” Ekman-Larsson, whose rookie season with the Coyotes was 2010-11, said of the transition. “But the guys have been amazing here, just welcoming me from day one. So it was a bit easier than I expected. But at the same time, it was difficult. I think it was more difficult mentally than physically. But I feel really good now and it’s fun to be here and I’m really excited to get started. “
Ekman-Larsson said he feels refreshed, which is what he hoped for when he finally agreed to the Coyotes’ request to waive his no-move clause after an unhappy 2021 season when the defender played for a team he knew he wanted to get rid of. him and his contract.
Despite that untenable situation, he said he will always be grateful to the Coyotes for selecting him sixth overall in 2009 and allowing him to build his NHL career in the desert.
You’ve done everything you can to keep the cut clean.
“They are a huge part of who I am and why I’m here,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I have a lot to thank you for. But it’s a good time for all of us to start over here and they too can move on.
“I didn’t even go back to Arizona before coming here (from Sweden this fall). I sold my house. I think it might take a little time, you know, to get over all of that. But I feel great. I’m all-in here and I feel great to be here and very excited to be here. But it was difficult, that’s for sure. “
In his interview with Sportsnet, Ekman-Larsson reiterated the responsibility he expressed immediately after the trade: that he did not play as well as he would like in recent seasons in Arizona and that he needs to do better in Vancouver.
But he also flatly rejects the argument that he is a shadow of the player that he was, that his best years are gone and are irretrievable.
“I’ve never been a guy who lists what other people think,” he said. “It has not been so bad that everyone wants it to sound. I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t been playing hockey well, but I don’t feel like it’s finished or anything. I still feel like my best years are yet to come. I’ve been training better than ever the last two summers, even if the 40s (Green’s infamous training camp) were tough. I feel like I have a lot left in me.
“I am here to help the team win. That’s what I’m all for, it only helps young people. It’s going to be fun to start over and show that I’m still a good player.
“The hockey career is very short. You can do it for 10, 15 years if you are lucky. I always want people to remember me for who I am, not just the hockey player. This is how I have always lived my life. When you are young and entering the league, you just want to stay in the league. But now it’s more about winning. So yes, I want more than in previous years. That is why I chose Vancouver. I think we have something good here. “