Of the 22 prospects who took part in this year’s Coyotes Prospect Development Camp, none impressed the management staff more than defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson
The young Swede, whom the Coyotes selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, wowed even casual observers with his superior skating and puck skills, and his overall presence on the ice.
"You can tell he’s a very intelligent player that has a great deal of poise out there with the puck and without the puck," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said after watching Ekman-Larsson on Monday at Polar Ice in Peoria. "He’s certainly an interesting player.”
With Zbynek Michalek having departed the Coyotes earlier this month for Pittsburgh via free agency, there is an opening on the depth chart for a defenseman. Thus, Ekman-Larsson will get a long look at training camp in September.
And he’s ready for it.
“I want to play in the NHL next year,” Ekman-Larsson said Monday. “That’s why I am here now. I will try to take a (roster) spot in September.”
Between now and then, Ekman-Larsson will continue to train on the ice, in a gym and on a bike. He said he’d like to improve all aspects of his game before camp starts.
Ekman-Larrson, who will turn 19 on Saturday, played the past two seasons for Leksand IF, a club in Sweden's second-highest professional league. In 81 games, he notched 12 goals and 32 assists. Should he not make the Coyotes at the start of the season, he would return to Sweden for the 2010-11 season and play in that country’s elite league.
“My two seasons in Leksand have helped me a lot,” Ekman-Larsson said. “The guys there are bigger and stronger so it was good for me to be there.”
Ekman-Larsson twice has represented Sweden in international competition; at the 2010 World Junior Championship and at the 2010 World Championship. In the former tournament, he was the highest scoring defenseman on his team with five points in six games. In the latter tournament, he won a bronze medal and was named Sweden’s best player in its victory over Norway.
Ekman-Larsson said he enjoyed this year’s camp for prospects.
“There were a lot of good guys out there and it was tough,” he said. “But it was fun to be here and meet all the new guys who are on the team.”
He added, “I tried to do my best every day and at every practice. I think I’m doing well.”
Defensive prospects Maxim Goncharov and David Schlemko
also are expected to get long looks at training camp.
Regarding Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney said: "I do believe he'll make a very serious run at a roster spot.”