When General Manager David Poile and the Nashville Predators approached Mattias Ekholm about re-signing with the club, there was never a doubt in the defenseman’s mind as to what the answer would be. Now, almost nine months before he would have become a restricted free agent, Ekholm will instead be spending the foreseeable future in Music City.
The 25-year-old inked a six-year, $22.5 million contract on Monday morning, keeping Ekholm a member of the Preds blue line through the 2021-22 season. What started as a dream in Borlange, Sweden, now continues to blossom in Nashville.
“It’s quite surreal to be honest,” Ekholm said of signing the new deal. “This is what you work for when you’re a kid growing up, to play in the NHL first of all and then to be able to sign a deal like that, it’s just awesome.
“The whole organization, from the owners to the leaders here, have been great to me. This is the only place I’ve been in my NHL career, and I’ve enjoy every second of it. It’s awesome to be able to be a part of it for almost seven more years.”
Ekholm got a taste of the NHL, playing in his first two games in the 2011-12 season and then one more contest the next season. The blueliner skated in 62 games in 2013-14, posting one goal and eight assists, before breaking out last season. Ekholm shattered his previous totals, recording seven goals and 18 points through 80 games while skating alongside defenseman Ryan Ellis to make up one of Nashville’s three exceptional d-pairs.
The arrival of Head Coach Peter Laviolette last season was a huge benefit for Ekholm, who has thrived under Laviolette’s new up-tempo system.
“When Peter got here last year, [it was] good for me,” Ekholm said. “I want to skate; that’s my biggest asset is to skate and get up ice and trying to join the rush - that’s what he wants us to do. He’s obviously a big piece of this, and I’m thankful to him. His philosophy [works for] me really well.”
The feeling is mutual for the Preds bench boss who is pleased to have just one more piece of Nashville’s elite defensive core locked up for years to come.
“Just about any team in the League would like the way Mattias Ekholm plays the game,” Laviolette said. “He skates, he defends, he can contribute offensively; in my time here, he has been rock solid day in and day out in practice and in games. He provides a lot of quality minutes against good opposition and is able to do it at both ends of the rink.”
The contract extension came at an opportune time for Ekholm, who had his parents in town from Sweden. Not only is Ekholm excited to remain in Nashville, but his parents don’t seem to mind visiting either.
“They’re just as excited as I am,” Ekholm said. “They love it here too, and they’re coming back for Christmas, so it’s awesome… It was extra fun to do it this week when my parents we’re in town, so it’s quite humbling, but they’re excited as well.”
Fellow Swede Filip Forsberg is also happy for his teammate – the two, along with another Swede, Calle Jarnkrok, have become close during their time with the club – and Forsberg had something else on his mind pertaining to his friend’s new contract.
“He’s been with this team now for a long time, and he really deserves it; he’s real solid player and I’m looking forward to seeing what he’s going to get me for a gift,” Forsberg said with a smirk.
Ekholm admits the journey to this point has had its ups and downs, but he’s enjoying the upward trend and doesn’t want it to end anytime soon. He’s still got some dreams to fulfill in Tennessee.
“It’s been so much fun, the city’s great and all the fans we get here in the building, every night it’s rocking,” Ekholm said. “It’s just been a fun ride, and I’m excited to keep it going.”