Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Swedish blueliner who burst onto the scene last season with 13 goals (5th among NHL defensemen) made an early statement on Wednesday night in the Coyotes' first win of 2012-13. The 21-year-old exploded with a well-rounded stat line (2 G, 1 A, plus-3, 2 PIM, 1 PPP, 6 SOG) against the Columbus Blue Jackets, proving he can serve as a remedy for Phoenix's often inconsistent offense on any given night.
Through three games, Ekman-Larsson (3:59 PP TOI/G) has even logged more time with the man advantage than Yandle (3:42), a significant upgrade after the youngster saw just over two minutes per game in such situations last year. This may only be an early trend, but the fact that Ekman-Larsson is being given such valuable minutes indicates Dave Tippett has big plans for the d-man moving forward.
Ekman-Larsson, who has operated primarily alongside steady defenseman Zbynek Michalek at even strength, came into the season as a popular fantasy sleeper pick drafted on average in the 11th or 12th round. But the young d-man's value has quickly escalated to ownership in three-quarters of Yahoo leagues (spike from 59 to 75 percent this week). His shots on goal and hits totals from a season ago also provide his owners with solid category coverage on the blue line.
Considering he was also a point-per-game player (21 points in 20 games) for the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League during the work stoppage, there's even more of a reason to be excited about his growing fantasy potential.
If Ekman-Larsson is somehow available in your league, be sure to make proper roster accommodations. For owners who took a late-round flyer on the blueliner in their drafts, you may have struck gold. While Ekman-Larsson was slotted at 37th among defensemen in Brian Metzer's initial rankings at the position, it's becoming very clear that he has clear top-20 potential for this shortened season in his advanced role.
Prorating his 2011-12 point production (32 in 82 games) projects roughly 19 if he plays in 48 games, but it's safe to say the 25-30 point range is more likely due to his expanded role in Phoenix's offense.