The Arizona Coyotes have completed significant moves this offseason.
They acquired a No. 1 center in Derek Stepan. They acquired goalie Antti Raanta, who was the back-up in New York but has shown signs he’s capable of transitioning into the starter’s role. They’ve brought in Niklas Hjalmarsson in a trade with Chicago, and general manager John Chayka expects he could be a top-pairing blue liner in Arizona.
For all of the youthful talent and the summer moves, Chayka believes the centerpiece for the Coyotes this season will be defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who just turned 26 years old a couple of weeks ago.
In Chayka’s mind, Ekman-Larsson is a “super star” for the Coyotes. The left-shooting defenseman has twice gone beyond the 20-goal plateau in a single season, while posting 12 goals and 39 points last season in Arizona.
“It’s a bit of a reboot here but I think we’ve got a good core, a young nucleus led by Oliver Ekman-Larsson,” Chayka told NHL Tonight. “He’s going to carry us. You only go as far as your top players can bring you.”
The Coyotes leaned heavily on Ekman-Larsson last season, as he played in every situation and averaged 24:36 of ice time per game, which led the team. Behind him in that category was Alex Goligoski at more than a full minute behind.
It was reported in June, when the Coyotes informed Shane Doan he would not be brought back next season, that Ekman-Larsson will be called on to be the club’s next captain. He has two more years remaining on his six-year, $33 million contract.