DALLAS - Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson will skate in his 500th NHL game on Tuesday when the Coyotes battle the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center.
"It feels like I've been in the league for a long time, but time flies," Ekman-Larsson said after Monday's practice. "Not everybody gets to play 500 games in this league and that means a lot to me. I want to stay in this league for another 500 games if I can."
Ekman-Larsson, whom Arizona drafted sixth overall in 2009, will become the sixth defenseman in franchise history to skate in 500 games. He broke into the NHL with the Coyotes in 2010-11. He says he could speak for an hour about memorable NHL games in which he's played, but, like many players, his first stands out the most.
"It was in Prague and we played against Boston," Ekman-Larsson said with a smile. "All of my family was there to see it. It was only an hour-and-a-half flight from Sweden so they all came to watch me play my first game. That was a special feeling, to have them watch me play so close to home."
Lost in the shuffle of Saturday's 6-2 loss to Boston was Ekman-Larsson's power-play goal in the third period. It was his 41st power-play goal, and it set a franchise record for power-play goals by a defenseman, previously held by Fredrik Olausson, a fellow Swede.
"That record means a lot to myself and it means I'm doing something good on the power play," Ekman-Larsson said. "I mean I get a lot of chances on the power play to score, and guys are setting me up and they know where I'm at on the point, and it's something I want to continue doing. That's something that I like to do very much, so it means a lot and it's something that I will take with me and build on."
Ekman-Larsson, 26, hopes his first 500 games are just the start of a long career.
"Getting a chance to play in this league is an unbelievable feeling," Ekman-Larsson said. "It's the best league in the world and a privilege to play in. I've realized how hard it is to stay in the league for that long. Your first year, it's pretty easy to be in the league and be pumped about everything, and the second year gets harder and then the third year, too. Every year gets harder and harder, and you have to find ways to stick with it and try to find positive things every single day. You aren't going to play good games for 82 games for 20 years. That's just not how it goes. It's unbelievable to me how people can play for 20-plus years because you have to put in so much work. Even in the off-season you have to be a pro. That's where you put in the heavy lifting before the season starts. It's impressive and that's where you can learn from older players like I learned from Shane Doan. It's good to sit down with older players to see how you can stay in the League for that long."