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Ekman-Larsson's maturity, skills impressing Coyotes

by Shawn P. Roarke /
PRAGUE -- For the Phoenix Coyotes, age certainly is in the eye of the beholder.

Where outsiders look upon defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and see a rail-thin teenager in his first NHL training camp, the Coyotes see a mature-beyond-his-years, NHL-ready defenseman.

That's why the soft-spoken 19-year-old Swede, the sixth pick of the 2009 Entry Draft, has broken training camp with the Coyotes and will make his NHL debut Saturday against the Boston Bruins (Noon ET, VERSUS, TSN, NESN) in the first of two 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere Games at O2 Arena here.

"He has good hockey sense and his skating and skills are real solid," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett told "I wouldn't say there is one real area where he is outstanding, but he has a real lot of poise about him for a young defenseman."

And it is that poise -- especially when he has the puck on his stick -- that has allowed him to make it to the NHL at such a young age.

"He has good hockey sense and his skating and skills are real solid. I wouldn't say there is one real area where he is outstanding, but he has a real lot of poise about him for a young defenseman."
-- Dave Tippett, on Oliver Ekman-Larsson

"His poise with the puck is second to none, especially for a guy that is 19 or however old he is," Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle told "If he's got that, everything else is going to be pretty easy for him.

"He's going to get bigger, stronger, more used to the North American game. The way he skates and handles the puck, it's fun to watch."

Ekman-Larsson showed that Wednesday in Latvia when the Coyotes played a Compuware NHL Premiere Challenge exhibition against Dinamo Riga, a member of the Kontinental Hockey League.
During the second period of an eventual 3-1 victory, Ekman-Larsson saw an opening in the slot and rushed for it, the puck on his stick, as he sliced between a pair of defenders to get off a shot on goal before being sent airborne by the lunging stick of a Riga defender.

Ekman-Larsson didn't score on the play, but that potential is there. After all, he scored 9 goals last season with Leksand in the Swedish second league, despite the fact that he was an under-aged player. At the 2010 World Junior Championship this past January, he led all Swedish defenseman with 5 points in six games.

"He's a solid player as a young player in a position that is hard to play," Tippett said. "He's a very intelligent player. His skill level is certainly NHL skill level.

"But it is a situation where all young defensemen have to go through a process to make sure that you are ready for a lot of different situations in the NHL. He continues to improve every day. He's a strong young player and hopefully he continues to elevate his game so he becomes a good NHL player."

For his part, the young Swede knows the work can't stop just because he survived the final cut with the Coyotes and will start the season as a third-pair defenseman, partnered with Sami Lepisto.

"I'm a little surprised, but I wanted to play in NHL this season," Ekman-Larsson told "I tried to do my best every practice and every game.

"It's my dream to play in NHL. It's big for me and my family, too, so it will mean a lot to play Saturday."

Ekman-Larsson, who said he patterns his game after Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, knows he has to get bigger and stronger to survive in the NHL. He said that will be his focus going forward.

"I need to keep the work up and try to be stronger and faster every day and practice on my skills out there," he said.

While the grind of the NHL schedule ultimately will be the final arbiter of his efforts, Tippett is pretty confident Ekman-Larsson will pass with flying colors.

"It's a maturity process," Tippett said. "The intensity of the games is going to start to elevate and he needs to elevate his intensity with that. He's a player that will continue to mature and grow physically.

"There will be some challenges for him that way, but so far he has overcome any challenges we thought he was going to have. He's pushed them aside and hopefully he will continue to do that."

His teammates also are pretty confident about the staying power of the young Swede.

"He's going to be a guy that is going to be here for a long time," Yandle said.
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