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Ekman-Larsson: Being Coyotes captain would be 'huge honor'

Defenseman could be in line to replace Doan, excited to play with Hjalmarsson

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

STOCKHOLM -- If defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is asked to be the next captain of the Arizona Coyotes, he's up to the task.

"That would be a huge honor," Ekman-Larsson said during the European Player Media Tour last week. "I didn't dream of that when I was a kid. It was a long, long way from that. It would be unbelievable."

The position is vacant after the Coyotes declined to offer a contract this season to forward Shane Doan, 40, who had been captain since 2003.

 

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Ekman-Larsson, 26, may be the obvious choice to succeed Doan. The Coyotes may not want to rush any of their younger players like forwards Max Domi (22) or Anthony Duclair (21), or defenseman Jakob Chychrun (19). It could be difficult for recent acquisitions, including center Derek Stepan (27) or defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (30), to assume the role.

"I hope I'm ready," Ekman-Larsson said. "You never know. I don't think I'm going to do anything different. I'll be myself. I'd like to think what I've been doing for the last seven years, if I get the 'C' on my jersey, that would be why -- because they like what I've been doing and like what kind of person I am. It feels like something new [is] going on."

The Coyotes hired Rick Tocchet to replace Dave Tippett as coach on July 11, less than three weeks after acquiring Hjalmarsson, who won the Stanley Cup three times with the Chicago Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015), and Stepan and goalie Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers; Raanta is expected to be the Coyotes' No. 1 goalie.

"Bringing Hjalmarsson, I think that's a really good pickup by us," Ekman-Larsson said. "He can help our young team to really get better and to just see and be around a guy like that … I know from playing with him (on the Swedish national team), we can learn a lot. He knows what it takes to win."

Ekman-Larsson said general manager John Chayka told him he will be Hjalmarsson's defense partner to start the season.

"I'm super excited about that," he said. "He's super easy to play with. He talks a lot and he's a good skater and moves the puck. I would say he's underrated."

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The No. 6 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, Ekman-Larsson has led the Coyotes in average ice time per game for the past five seasons (24:36 last season). With the reshaping of the Coyotes and an opportunity to play with an experienced defense partner, Ekman-Larsson thinks he's ready to emerge as an elite NHL defenseman.

"Obviously it's hard to sit here and talk a lot about that," he said. "I think I have what it takes to be up there. It comes down to playing on a good team and playing for the team, make the playoffs. I think people will talk about me more if I'm on a winning team and that's what I'm trying to do, trying to help the team win.

"That's what good players do. I'm really looking forward to trying to take the next step."

That next step was immeasurably difficult for Ekman-Larsson last season. His production dropped from 55 points to 39 (12 goals, 27 assists), and the Coyotes faded out of the Stanley Cup Playoff picture in the second half. His mother, Annika, who had cancer, died in March.

"I would lie if I told you I was not thinking about it," Ekman-Larsson said. "I knew, I could tell when I was home last summer that it was going the wrong way. You wake up every morning and you're wondering how she's feeling and how she's doing, and I was just trying to hide it from everybody else, my teammates and the fans. I wanted to do that for her. [I] didn't want anybody to find out.

"I didn't want to talk about it. I knew there would come a day that I had to talk about it, so I actually flew home during the bye week for two days, basically to say goodbye. That was probably the hardest thing I ever did. I wanted to stay [in Arizona after that], wanted to do that for her."

With training camp set to open next month, Ekman-Larsson figures to benefit from a fresh start.

"I think it could be good for me," he said. "But what happened, that's not going to go away in a week or a year. It's something I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life.

"There will be good days and bad days, and you deal with it. I feel like I've handled it well, even if a lot of people don't think that I played well last year. I think I had a really good year. That's what I was dealing with."

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