Coyotes Captain Returns To The Desert With Message For Playoff Hockey

Oliver Ekman-Larsson . (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
Oliver Ekman-Larsson . (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)

by Seth Askelson

When current Arizona Coyotes defenseman and captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson was drafted sixth overall
in the 2009 draft by team, the organization was in the midst of its bankruptcy and ownership issues. He
is not unfamiliar to uncertain times as a member of the Coyotes, but a global pandemic is a new level of
unknown that is being felt by everyone around the National Hockey League.

Prior to being named the captain of Arizona’s NHL franchise, Ekman-Larsson played eight seasons with
some of the game’s greatest leaders. Names such as Derek Morris, Adrian Aucoin, and Keith Yandle all
helped show OEL how to be a leader as a defenseman.

Of course, the Swedish defender also learned from arguably the generation’s greatest captain, Shane
Doan. Doan and the other great leaders helped Ekman-Larsson understand what it takes to get through
any and all uncertainty.

“I was fortunate to play with players like Shane, Yandle, Morris, Aucoin,” Ekman-Larsson said. “A bunch
of real good leaders. They just told me to not think about stuff you can’t do anything about, and that’s
what we as a team did when we didn’t have an owner or we didn’t know what was going to happen. It
wasn’t really worth looking into and wasting your energy on stuff that you can’t do anything about.”
While Ekman-Larsson and longtime members of the Coyotes organization are used to uncertainty, the
rest of the league is not. It is an advantage that Arizona has had to adapt to over the past twelve years,
even making the playoffs three times at the height of the unknown.

During the last of those three consecutive playoff appearances, which would be the final time the
Coyotes made the playoffs, Ekman-Larsson would make his playoff debut. In 16 games, he added four
points and scored his first, and only, career playoff goal on April 23, 2012. His goal at 13:14 of the first
period in Game 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks wound up being the game-winning goal during
Arizona’s 4-0 series-clinching 4-0 victory.

Following that series, the Coyotes found themselves matched up against the Nashville Predators, the
same organization Arizona will face in the play-in round for a chance to enter the official Stanley Cup
Playoffs. The Coyotes defeated the Predators in five games, but this is a different Nashville organization
from the one eight years earlier.

On the ice, the Predators have put together one of the best squads on paper, though it has not come all
together as they had planned. The franchise made a Stanley Cup Final back in 2017, and may have
pushed that series to seven games if not for a premature whistle.

Off the ice, the Predators have built a buzz and a fan base that the Coyotes are looking to have in the
near future. Helped by that run to the Stanley Cup Finals three seasons ago, Nashville has been able to
grab the attention of the city and become one of the more popular Sun Belt teams in the league.

While the play-in round games will not count as official playoff contests, the intensity will still be at the
same level as if it were the playoffs. The intensity is arguably even higher as this is a truly win-or-go-
home situation, and less opportunities to win the series than normal.

When Doan entered the Stanley Cup Playoffs as captain of the Coyotes for the first time in eight years
during the 2010 edition, he did not have the most playoff experience on the roster. Ekman-Larsson is
entering the same situation this time around, and will have a lot of Stanley Cup champions in his
leadership group.

It is easy to think of names like Clayton Keller and Barrett Hayton when thinking of the Coyotes because
it is an indication at how exciting the future should be. But, Arizona is full of guys that have won the
ultimate prize up and down its lineup, such as Brad Richardson and Nik Hjalmarsson. It is players like
those that can really help guide the talented young guys through an unknown territory.

“They have been telling all the guys to put in the work here,” Ekman-Larsson said. “When we have a
chance to improve the strength, or being faster, or work on your shot. I think it’s all the details that they
have been saying ‘let’s dig in’ and try to do something special.”

Though it was eight years ago, Ekman-Larsson still recalls what it was like to play in the playoffs for the
first time. He described it as “fast” and said he does not know if he “touched the puck the first game.” It
is an experience he, along with the rest of the leaders and experienced players, may have to help some
of the first-time participants through.

“I think our young group is going to learn a lot from being in those kind of games and those kind of
situations,” Ekman-Larsson said, “and that’s going to benefit us going forward.”

There is also one piece of advice Ekman-Larsson took from the past Coyotes leaders that will be applied
as the team (hopefully) heads to the bubble come July 24. It is an approach that is simple on paper, but
is a lot more complex not only during the playoffs, but in the playoffs during a global pandemic and a
unique situation.

“Just be happy and take one day at a time,” Ekman-Larsson said. “Work hard and do your best.”

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