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NHL Arizona Coyotes

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: The Next Great NHL Defenseman?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Off the ice, it’s been a rough go for the Phoenix Coyotes in the past couple of seasons, dealing with incredible financial issues. On the ice, it’s been another story entirely.

Combined with a deep playoff run last year, which included their first playoff series win in the history of the franchise, since it moved to Phoenix at least, there is a nice group of youngsters on this club that could be coming into their own within the next couple of seasons.

While the likes of Mikkel Boedker will make for great excitement if he continues his development, the Coyotes could be looking at a future star on their blue line, and it’s not Keith Yandle. It’s 21-year-old Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

Ekman-Larsson had a fine season in his first full year with the club, and was a big reason that they were so successful, particularly in the second half of the year. His numbers were solid, with 32 points on the year, including 13 goals, but the stats don’t really tell the whole story.

OEL has all of the tools to be a successful defenseman. And when I say successful, I mean a superstar defenseman. The first is his skating ability. He’s deceivingly quick at both ends of the ice and is a terrific puck mover. He’s also extremely intelligent, which is a key element at both ends.

Defensively, OEL has the height, but really lacks the size to be a physical force. But he’s defensively responsible and doesn’t let much get by him. On offense, he uses that intelligence to put the puck in the right spot and has a pretty decent shot. For a Coyotes team that is putrid on the power play, he can make a big difference.

The success of Oliver Ekman-Larsson last season, and the potential that he has, is part of the reason that the Coyotes were rumored to be shopping Keith Yandle so heavily prior to the lockout beginning. The Coyotes feel that Ekman-Larsson is the total package and has the makeup of a franchise defenseman, which is why Yandle could be deemed expendable.

Regardless of what transpires on the trade market, the Coyotes have a future great one in Ekman-Larsson. What he lacks in physicality, he more than makes up for in his smarts and his touch. He can be an elite offensive defenseman, while also proving to be strong in his own end. He’s going to be an exciting player to watch on this blue line for the future.