GLENDALE – Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a quiet, 21-year-old from Sweden but he’s making plenty of noise on the stat sheet so far this season and is leading the club in multiple categories.
For starters, Ekman-Larsson will enter Tuesday’s road game at Vancouver tops on the team in assists with nine, and co-leading the team with 12 points. He also is team leader in average ice time (25:07), shifts per games (30.1) and plus/minus rating (+7).
Those who are around the club on a daily basis are not surprised by how quickly Ekman-Larsson is evolving into a top-notch NHL defenseman. The Coyotes knew he had great potential when they selected him sixth overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and the consensus is he is getting better with each game. Which works out well, considering that's his goal.
"I just try to improve my game in every game and every practice," Ekman-Larsson told me after a recent morning skate. "I think I have more that I can bring to the team. I just have to work hard every day."
Ekman-Larsson played 20 games in the American Hockey League during the lockout and notched 21 points for the Portland Pirates. Playing at that level - and in North American rinks - has served him well in this abbreviated NHL season. Only five other NHL defensemen have more points than he does after the first month of games.
Ekman-Larsson has played all 18 games this season after playing all 82 regular-season games and all 16 playoff games last season. His durability is much needed by the Coyotes, who pride themselves on wining with solid defense and secondary scoring.
|Paul Bissonnette |
• Coyotes forward Paul Bissonnette has notched an assist in each of the past two games. The streak – the first of his NHL career - comes after Bissonnette played 33 consecutive games without a point. His last point prior to his assists over the weekend came on Nov. 19, 2011 when he scored a goal vs. Buffalo.
• The Coyotes signed defenseman David Schlemko to a two-year contract on Monday. Schlemko hasn’t played since suffering an upper-body injury on Feb. 4. Before being injured, he played nine games and blocked 26 shots, which led the team at the time and ranks second today.
Schlemko is traveling and skating with the team on its current three-game trip through western Canada.
• Phoenix International Raceway will host a free “FanFest” with Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson before Thursday’s home game vs. Minnesota on the Westgate Plaza starting at 5:30 p.m. Johnson is scheduled to take the stage for a live Q & A session with fans, and later he will drop the ceremonial first puck for the Coyotes vs. Wild game.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Follow Dave Vest on Twitter at @davest4yotes.