Oliver Ekman-Larsson might just be the most upwardly mobile guy in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Not exactly an easy chore when virtually every scout or expert puts you deep in the giant shadow that is cast by fellow Swedish blueliner Victor Hedman, a potential No. 1 overall pick on Friday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
But in any draft rankings you care to observe, Ekman-Larsson – who doesn't turn 18 until next month – is a man on the move. NHL Central Scouting had him listed as eighth among European skaters in its mid-season rankings. By year's end, he'd moved up to No. 4.
TSN's Bob McKenzie slots Ekman-Larsson in at sixth in his pre-draft rankings. International Scouting Services puts him ninth, exactly where you'll find the Ottawa Senators in the current first-round selection order.
So what's the deal with Ekman-Larsson, who spent this season playing with Leksand in the second-highest pro league (Allsvenskan) in Sweden?
"His development this season has been enormous," said Goran Stubb, the NHL's director of European scouting. "I think it helped him very much that he played senior hockey and regularly, with a big role... Leksand didn't do well, but Ekman-Larsson had a very good season."
The 6-foot-2, 176-pound defenceman had three goals among his 17 points for Leksand in 2008-09 and posted an impressive plus-44 rating as the team's youngest player. At the 2009 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, he totalled two goals and six assists in six games for Sweden.
It isn't any surprise that Ekman-Larsson patterns his game after the most famed Swedish defenceman of them all, six-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings. Lidstrom, it should be noted, was rather unheralded himself heading in the 1989 entry draft – the Wings landed him in the third round, 53rd overall.
"His development this season has been enormous. I think it helped him very much that he played senior hockey and regularly, with a big role ... Leksand didn't do well, but Ekman-Larsson had a very good season." - Goran Stubb
"I'm a player with good skating and good hands," Ekman-Larsson told NHL.com. "I see the ice pretty good. I try to play like Nick Lidstrom. Nick is a very good player, how simple he plays in every game, how his skating and hands are."
Rivals in Sweden are already impressed with Ekman-Larsson's game.
"The hardest shot, I always think Oliver Ekman has (it)," Robin Lehner
of the Frolunda juniors, Central Scouting's top-rated European goaltender, told NHL.com. "He doesn't use the slapper often, but the wrist shot he has is really hard. When I'm at practice with the national team, he has a really hard wrist shot. If (he) puts it on the net, it's hard to take."
Ekman-Larsson is at least a year away from arriving in the NHL. He'd like to spend another season with Leksand, building up his size and strength. He also hopes to represent Sweden at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Saskatchewan.