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Ekman-Larsson sees playoffs in near future for Coyotes

Defenseman says he signed long-term contract extension because they're on rise

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

STOCKHOLM -- Oliver Ekman-Larsson believes the Arizona Coyotes will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the near future and didn't want to be left out.

The 27-year-old defenseman signed an eight-year contract extension with Arizona on July 1. It was the biggest move by the Coyotes in an offseason when they traded for forward Alex Galchenyuk and signed free agent forward Michael Grabner.

Although he knew there would have been plenty of interest in his services around the NHL had he reached free agency July 1, 2019, Ekman-Larsson opted to remain with the Coyotes and is focused on ending their playoff drought at six seasons.


[RELATED: Arizona Coyotes season preview]


"I'm very excited about our team," Ekman-Larsson said last month at the NHL European Player Media Tour. "Obviously, I looked around a little bit and looked at the options I had because I felt I needed to do my research so I could confidently say I made the right decision. It felt great to stay in Arizona."

Part of Ekman-Larsson's research came by picking the brain of general manager John Chayka about the direction the Coyotes are headed.

"We worked it out," Ekman-Larsson said. "It didn't take too long to figure everything out. At the same time, I was talking to Chayka about what was going on. I wanted to make sure we were going in the right direction, and I feel super comfortable that we are.

"I was looking for small steps to get better, and that's what I think we're doing. That's what it takes to get ahead in this league. We want to be better this year, we want to win more games, and I think we're in position to do so."

Video: 31 in 31: Arizona Coyotes 2018-19 season preview

Ekman-Larsson is the type of puck-moving defenseman every coach covets. He has 290 points (102 goals, 188 assists) in 576 NHL games, all with the Coyotes, who selected him with the No. 6 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. He is second in Coyotes/Winnipeg Jets franchise history in goals and points by a defenseman behind Teppo Numminen (108 goals, 534 points).

Ekman-Larsson said he was impressed with the acquisition of Galchenyuk in a trade from the Montreal Canadiens for forward Max Domi on June 15. Galchenyuk had NHL career highs of 30 goals and 56 points in 2015-16 and had 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists) last season, but he never established himself as a full-time center for Montreal. He'll get a chance to do it in Arizona.

The Coyotes offense also got a boost with the signing of Grabner on July 1. The speedy forward scored 27 goals in each of the past two seasons.

"Obviously, Alex Galchenyuk, he's a really good player, a 30-goal scorer," Ekman-Larsson said. "He's got some nice moves, some good hands, and I'm super excited to have him on the team. Then there's Michael Grabner, a forward who can play the [penalty kill] and can score some shorthanded goals. I really like the moves that we made.

"John Chayka and (coach) Rick Tocchet have been really busy this summer. That was a sign we were going in the right direction."

Video: Looking at the contract extension for Ekman-Larsson

The Coyotes started the 2016-17 season in the wrong direction in Tocchet's first season as coach, losing their first 11 games (0-10-1) and finding themselves 2-15-3 after 20. They were 9-27-5 on Jan. 1 and 12-32-9 after losing to the Jets on Feb. 6.

Ekman-Larsson said he prefers to focus on how Arizona finished the season, going 17-9-3 in their last 29 games.

"It wasn't easy for him when he came in," Ekman-Larsson said of Tocchet. "He had to bring in a new system for new players. He stuck with it, and that's why we turned it around.

"If we can start the way we finished last year, it will be a good season."

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