Mar 8, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) against the Minnesota Wild at the Jobing.com Arena. The Wild defeated the Coyotes 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE
In preparation for Nashville's upcoming series against Phoenix, we figured it would be a good idea to take a look at some Coyotes that Predators fans might not be so familiar with. Now we present: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Outside of Keith Yandle, the Coyotes don't have that many big names playing for them on the blue line. One who has stood out this year, however, is the youngster Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Phoenix drafted Ekman-Larsson sixth overall in 2009, and he split time between Phoenix and San Antonio during the 2010-11 season. This year, Ekman-Larsson played a full 82-game season and appeared in all six of the Coyotes' playoff games, helping Phoenix earn its first ever playoff series win.
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Ekman-Larsson pretty much has a lot of the tools you want in a defenseman. He's got the size - most places list him at 6-2 and anywhere between 176 and 190 - he can play on the power play and to top it all off he's only 20 years old.
This year, Ekman-Larsson was second on the Coyotes in minutes player per 60 minutes, finishing just below Yandle, signifying head coach Dale Tippet's trust in the young defenseman. He's also been playing on the top power play unit and has put up good offensive numbers for a defenseman - 32 points in 82 regular season games. His 3 points in the Chicago series all came on the power play.
He's also incredibly disciplined, only registering 32 penalty minutes during the regular season and just two during the playoffs.
But right now, the Coyotes are tickled with this year. Keith Yandle struggled offensively at times. David Schlemko and Michal Rozsival had long-term injures and Aucoin has a series of minor ones. For much of the season, Ekman-Larsson was the steadiest hand on the blue line.
Coaches and teammates point to his smooth skating and extra gear that jumps out on the ice. His size (6-foot-2, 190) and wingspan that covers a great area and allows him to get back into plays and extract the puck with a poke check. He showed an unflappable demeanor and, as the season wore on, more affinity for the physical side of the game.
So where can the Predators take advantage? Like most young, puck-moving defensemen, Ekman-Larsson still has a lot of work to do in becoming an all-around defenseman who can eat up a lot of minutes on a nightly basis. A young gun like him is bound to make a few mistakes over the course of a seven game series (he is a minus three in the playoffs so far, for those of you that like that stat).
Another area where the Predators can take advantage is the depth that Nashville possesses. Ekman-Larsson averaged just over 22 minutes per game during the regular season and actually leads the Coyotes in that category during the postseason.
Because of the consistent scoring Nashville has produced this season, Phoenix's depth on defense will be tested. Simply put, Ekman-Larsson and Yandle can't be out for every shift and the Predators have a chance to capitalize there.