The Canucks are finally getting a glimpse of the offence they had hoped for from Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Photo credit:© Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
9 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks pulled the trigger on acquiring Oliver Ekman-Larsson in July of 2021, alongside Arizona Coyotes forward Conor Garland, after months of speculation about the Canucks’ apparent interest in the defenceman.
Ekman-Larsson, who served as captain after Shane Doan’s retirement after the 2016-17 season, was taken sixth overall by the Coyotes in the 2009 NHL Draft. During his 11-year tenure with the team, he recorded 388 points (128 goals and 260 assists) in 769 games.
Coming off of a gruelling 2020-21 season, riddled by injuries, COVID-19 cases, and underperforming play across all fronts, the Canucks liquidated their backend, which conceded 135 goals in 56 games, 22 more than the league average.
The addition of Ekman-Larsson was supposed to take offensive pressure off powerplay quarterback Quinn Hughes, whose defensive game plummeted after the loss of partner Chris Tanev to the Calgary Canucks — I mean, Calgary Flames.
Nevertheless, Ekman-Larsson has had his fair share of 40-point seasons, being the Coyotes’ point leader during the 2015-16 season with 55 points (21 goals and 34 assists) in 75 games. But, like many promising things, that’s just not how things panned out for the newest Canucks addition.
Troubles finding the net
Paired on a line with 2010 Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers, Ekman-Larsson was pinned to start his third year of an eight-year $8.25 million contract on the dominant offensive streak the Canucks were so desperately looking for, after being shutout in six games last year.
However, this obviously wasn’t the case. After notching the first Canucks goal of the season in a 3-2 shoutout loss to the Edmonton Oilers on opening night, followed up by an assist in the next game, Ekman-Larsson went cold. It would be nearly a month before his next point.
Most notably, the gain entry, do-it-yourself kind of defenceman, appeared to lack confidence when stepping up to make plays.
A golden opportunity to charge into the offensive zone became a half-wall pass.
An open lane for a cross-seam pass became a hesitant D to D play.
That’s not to say all has been lost on the season for Ekman-Larsson. While points haven’t been easy to come by, his work on the backend, logging well-over 20 minutes a night, has been a difference-maker. The Canucks sit in first for goals against while at five-on-five. In hindsight, Ekman-Larsson’s lack of production probably wouldn’t be as criticized if the blueline as a whole put up more goals this season.
Trending in the right direction
So, what’s sparked the change to improve the defenceman to seven points (2 goals and 5 assists) in his last five games? A little combination of puck luck and putting shots on net.
Ekman-Larsson has fired an average of 2.8 shots on net a game — which he has failed to reach for more than a handful of games. Although his goals haven’t been as dazzling as some of those that found the back of the net during his time as a Coyote, at this stage in his career, he has found success in hunkering down and firing well-placed shots in front of plenty of traffic at the point. And a good chunk of those shots that don’t go in off his stick are being redirected on the way in for a point in the assist column.
New colours, new swag: Ekman-Larsson’s breakthrough game, conveniently enough, came during his first matchup against his former team in front of a home crowd at Rogers Arena. The third star of the game dropped a trio of assists for his first multi-point game as a Canuck. His point total stands at 15 on the season (4 goals and 10 assists).
With two points in his last five games coming on the powerplay, Ekman-Larsson is helping what once used to be a big thorn in the team’s side to be a step in the right direction.
Quinn Hughes has done more than his fair sure to produce points on behalf of the Canucks’ blue line, and in the three games Hughes was out for, the man they called OEL certainly stepped up.
But with Hughes back in the lineup — and more notably, back on the point on PP1 — Ekman-Larsson will need to do everything in his power to continue to be effective at both ends of the ice despite being put in fewer offensive situations.
Quite frankly, if Vancouver has any hope of making it to the postseason come April, Ekman-Larsson has to stay hot. He will have a chance to increase his point streak to six games when the Canucks take on the Anaheim Ducks tomorrow at 7:00 p.m.
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