GLENDALE – Not long before Training Camp started, Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson spent a few days in the New York City area serving as the team’s representative for the NHL’s official Media Day.
It was a pretty big deal. Other players who participated included Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin Jonathan Toews, Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask and P.K. Subban.
|Oliver Ekman-Larsson at the 2014 NHL Media Day. Photo by Chris Wojcik. |
“It was a great experience,” said Ekman-Larsson, who cemented himself as a marquee player by notching career-high numbers seemingly across the board – goals, assists, points, ice time per game, shots - in 2013-14. “It’s always nice to go to New York. We did a lot there during the day with the NHL and it was fun (to) promote the team and myself. It was good.”
Two days into training camp, Ekman-Larsson, 23, appears primed for another outstanding season.
“He looks bigger, thicker,” Head Coach Dave Tippett said after Saturday’s skate. “He’s starting to physically mature. His thinking and skill are top notch but he wants to become a better athlete and to do that is to become bigger and stronger and still keep all those other components in place. For how much he plays over a full season, for him to get bigger and stronger and be able to sustain better will make him a better player.”
NHL.com recently ranked the League’s current defensemen heading into 2014-15 and Ekman-Larsson landed 12th on that list:
Here’s the skinny from NHL.com:
“Ekman-Larsson has become one of Coyotes coach Dave Tippett's most trusted defensemen. That trust does not come easily, particularly for a player who is 23 years old. He faced some of the League's toughest competition last season, started fewer than half of his shifts in the offensive zone and still finished 14th among NHL defensemen in points.”
|Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Photo by Norm Hall. |
Ekman-Larsson is looking to produce even more this season than he did last season.
“I just want to keep playing the way I am and take it to the next level and try to help the team win,” Ekman-Larsson said. “That’s what I’m going to try to do this year.”
He added, “I always try to shoot a lot. I’m going to shoot even more this year.”
Ekman-Larsson spent the summer in his native Sweden working out with his father. Unlike last season when he arrived late to camp because of travel issues, Ekman-Larsson arrived in Arizona several weeks before camp started to start skating informally with teammates in Scottsdale. He said he thinks the informal skates will greatly benefit all who participated and the team. He also said he hopes the Coyotes can return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after two years on the sidelines.
The key, he said, would be returning to a strong team game.
“We got away from Coyotes hockey a little bit last year,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I think we have to rely on everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re fourth line or first line. Everybody has to dig in. That’s the biggest thing I think.”
• With the first preseason game set for Monday, two of the three Training Camp teams – Team B & Team C – will scrimmage at Gila River Arena on Sunday starting at 11:00 a.m.. It will be a good chance for two-thirds of the 62 players in camp to show how ready they are for what lies ahead next week - five preseason games within a five-day span.
“We've got some spots a lot of guys are competing for," Doan said. "That's exciting when you have that. You'd love to have 20 returning All-Stars, but I don't think anybody has that and we're excited that we've got some guys who are really going to push."
|Dave Tippett and Sam Gagner. Photo by Norm Hall. |
• Although he hadn’t put on skates since late May, Tippett liked being on the ice with the players for the first two days of training camp.
"It's great for the coaches to get on the ice with these guys because you're right down in the heart of the drills," Tippett said. "You can see guys competing and the level they compete at, the execution right at ice level. Those are all things that jump out at you as a coach. You get to know the players better."
Tippett was asked if he was sore after skating for all three practices on Friday and then three more on Saturday after having not skated all summer.
“It’s not too bad,” he said with a smile - and a nod to a soak in a hot tub after Friday’s first day.
• Prospects Brendan Perlini and Pavel LaPlante did not skate again on Saturday, and Tippett said he doesn't expect them to skate Sunday either. Another prospect, Laurent Dauphin, skated only briefly. All three players suffered minor injuries during the Rookie Camp games vs. Los Angeles.
• Center Antoine Vermette was the first Coyotes player to participate in this summer’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – the social media video fad that featured people dumping ice water on their heads to promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and encourage donations to research. According to the ALS Association, more than $70 million were raised thanks to the Ice Bucket Challenge this summer.
Vermette said he was happy to participate and that he was shocked how it took off.
“That was amazing,” Vermette said. “Patrice Bergeron came to me and asked me if I would do it and I said sure. So he challenged me and the next thing I know I challenged a few other guys and it just kind of snowballed from there. It was a really good experience.”
More than a dozen Coyotes, including Shane Doan, Mike Smith and Keith Yandle participated.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Click here to watch Vermette's Ice Bucket Challenge.