After his breakout 2011-12 campaign, Oliver Ekman-Larsson probably could’ve landed a lockout gig in his native Sweden, or another strong European league.
Instead, he agreed to join AHL Portland at Phoenix’s request.
The Coyotes’ brass is sure happy he did.
Ekman-Larsson has been stellar in the American league, scoring nine points in nine games — even though he missed three weeks with a sliced finger.
“It’s been really good,” GM Don Maloney said of OEL’s time in Portland. “He’s been really good and the reason for that is just his attitude. He wants to be there. He wants to improve. He’s working hard.”
Ekman-Larsson is the cornerstone of Portland’s young, gifted blueline. Others include:
— Brandon Gormley, the 13th overall pick at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
— David Rundblad, the 17th overall pick at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft (acquired in the Kyle Turris trade.)
— Michael Stone, a third-round pick from 2008 that debuted with the ‘Yotes last season (and played in two playoff games.)
— Chris Summers, a first-round pick from 2006 who’s currently serving as Portland’s alternate captain.
The Pirates blueline also has youngsters Maxim Goncharov and Mathieu Brodeur in the mix — all told, the oldest defenseman on the team is 25.
So, no shortage of talent on defense…but with that said, Maloney recognizes Ekman-Larsson is the guy most (if not all) are focused on.
“I’ve actually seen a lot of [AHL] games in the fall, and there are players down there that have been in the NHL that have it in cruise control a bit,” Maloney said. “In OEL’s case, that’s not him.
“He’s out there to help that team win and so other than the injury, he’s been excellent and it’s been good for his continual maturation.”