GLENDALE – Oliver Ekman-Larsson can’t wait to participate in the 2015 NHL All-Star Game and its festivities this weekend in Columbus.
"It’s a big honor for me to go there and represent the Coyotes," Ekman-Larsson said. "It’s going to be a lot of fun to be around the top players in this league. I’ve always wanted to go to the All-Star Game. I want to take my game to the next level and I’m hoping this experience will help me do that."
Ekman-Larsson, 23, will attend the event co-leading the NHL’s defensemen in goal scoring. He and three others - Dustin Byfuglien, Erik Johnson and Dennis Wideman - have lit the lamp a League-high 12 times this season. Ekman-Larsson also leads NHL defensemen with eight power-play goals and leads all NHL skaters with six game-winning goals.
"It's been a mixed bag for OEL because he struggled a bit early in the season," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said. "But the things he's accomplished this year, even though our team hasn't played as well, are very much All-Star worthy."
The All-Star Game festivities include the player draft to determine the two All-Star Game rosters on Friday, and then the red carpet walk and skills competition on Saturday. The game itself is Sunday at 3 p.m. Arizona time.
Ekman-Larsson says he’s looking forward to all of the events, but he’s crossing his fingers he isn’t the last player drafted on Friday. Toronto’s Phil Kessel was the final player selected at the inaugural All-Star fantasy player draft in 2011 and he received plenty of playful ribbing from his peers and friends and family members for earning that distinction. On the plus side, Kessel also was awarded a new car.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
"Hopefully I won’t get picked last," Ekman-Larsson said with a smile. "I don’t need a new car. I’m happy with mine."
Regarding the skills competition, Ekman-Larsson said he’d prefer to participate in a puck-shooting or stick-handling competition rather than one that features skating, but he’ll gladly do whatever his team captain assigns him to do.
Surprisingly, Ekman-Larsson will be the only Swede participating in this year’s NHL All-Star Game. While that disappoints him, he said it would give him a chance to branch out a little bit and hopefully make some new friends.
"It would be fun to have another Swede there, but there are a lot of good players in this league," Ekman-Larsson said. "I’m just going to try to hang out with as many people as I can and have a good time."
One Swede who will be with Ekman-Larsson in spirit is Erik Clarberg. Ekman-Larsson wears sweater No. 23 with the Coyotes as a tribute to Clarberg, a friend and former teammate in Sweden who passed away from illness in 2006.
"He was two years older than me but we still practiced together a lot and we had a lot of the same friends," Ekman-Larsson said. "He was the captain of one of the teams I played on growing up and a guy I always looked up to because he was just a great guy on and off the ice and a really good hockey player. When I was younger I wanted to be like him."
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
Ekman-Larsson’s parents are planning to travel from Sweden and attend the All-Star Game. He said their presence is going to greatly enhance the experience.
"They’re happy for me and having them there will feel right because they’re a huge part of why I am getting to play in the All-Star Game," Ekman-Larsson said. "Plus it will be fun for them to come and to see how everything works."
Ekman-Larsson’s teammates are excited he’s getting the chance to showcase his skills in the All-Star setting. Forward Mikkel Boedker, who is Ekman-Larsson’s best friend on the Coyotes, said he expects his pal to fit in quite nicely among the NHL’s elite players.
"He’s proven he can play at a world-class level in real games so I think he’ll do just fine at the All-Star Game," Boedker said. "He has all the skills to compete with those players."
He added: "It’s not easy to be an All-Star in this league and at a young age he’s proven that he’s worthy. I’m very proud of him. We all are."