Leading by example: Ekman-Larsson won’t ‘do anything different’ if named Coyotes captain

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This post is a part of Coyotes day at PHT…

The youthful Arizona Coyotes underwent a change in leadership earlier this summer, after Shane Doan was informed he wouldn’t be brought back for the 2017-18 season.

Doan turns 41 years old in October and is coming off a difficult year that saw his production drop significantly. But the Coyotes’ decision stirred up quite a reaction and criticism directed at the organization after it let go of its longest-tenured player and captain.

Doan had spent his entire career with the Coyotes franchise, dating back to its final year in Winnipeg before it relocated. But his time with the Coyotes came to an end in June, which means the team will have a new captain for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

According to a report in June, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson will be named the Coyotes’ new captain. Now 26 years old, he has spent his entire NHL career so far in Arizona, emerging not only as the team’s No. 1 blue liner but one of the best in the entire league.

“I hope I’m ready,” Ekman-Larsson recently told NHL.com. “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.”

Twice, Ekman-Larsson has reached 20 or more goals in a single season. Last season, his mother’s health weighed heavily on his mind and he missed the final three games to travel home to Sweden after she passed away. His production didn’t reach the same levels as it had over the previous three years but he still had a good season during a difficult time for him and his family off the ice.

His play over the years has garnered high praise throughout the league, including from former Penguins and Sabres bench boss Dan Bylsma, who believed Ekman-Larsson “should be a Norris Trophy candidate every year.”

The plan for the young Coyotes is to lean heavily on Ekman-Larsson to carry them in the upcoming campaign, according to general manager John Chayka this off-season. He’s certainly used to that expectation, averaging almost 25 minutes per game last season and drawing difficult assignments as the top defenseman.

Given his body of work since joining the Coyotes as the sixth overall pick in 2009, it seems he’s the perfect candidate to take over the leadership responsibilities.

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