Why it’s too early to evaluate Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland
Photo credit:© Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
By Noah Strang11 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks made a franchise-altering trade during this past offseason with the Arizona Coyotes that netted them two players.
Veteran defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and forward Conor Garland arrived in Vancouver with high expectations considering the assets the Canucks had to surrender. With their first year almost over, it’s fair to say they landed somewhere in between failing to meet and meeting expectations, neither blowing anyone away with their play.
Recently, head coach Bruce Boudreau was asked about Oliver Ekman-Larsson and he made the statement that he thought he would be better next season. When asked to clarify, he had the following to say.
“When a guy gets traded, and he’s been on a team for a long time, his first year with that [new] team is an acclimation period. Once he gets used to them, he becomes the player he used to be,” said Boudreau. “You see a lot of guys getting traded and in their first year and they’re [the new team] going ‘What did we trade for him? He’s not as good as I thought he was,’ but then they [the acquired player] become who they are.”
It’s true that this has been a rocky season for the Canucks. The environment has been a difficult one for any player to flourish in and since it’s OEL and Garland’s first year on the team, it makes sense that it would have been even harder for the newcomers. Perhaps it’s best to reserve judgment on the two acquisitions from Arizona until they’ve had another year to settle in, though that doesn’t mean that we can’t judge the trade as a whole.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s performance
Oliver Ekman-Larsson was the most important return for Vancouver as his play would dictate how the trade was viewed. The Canucks more or less knew what they were getting in Garland, but Ekman-Larsson was a much bigger mystery. His last few seasons in Arizona were not good but could a change of scenery get him back to peak performance?
He’s been relied upon a ton this year in a wide variety of situations for the Canucks. He has 15 points at 5-on-5, just four fewer than Quinn Hughes, and has shown a remarkable ability to get shots on target through traffic. Ekman-Larsson has also done his share of quarterbacking the power play to a moderate level of success, though his numbers pale in comparison to those of Hughes.
Ekman-Larsson isn’t getting any younger and that’s a concern for the Canucks. His issues with foot speed are only going to become worse. However, the chemistry that he built this season playing with Tyler Myers and familiarity with the team may help Ekman-Larsson have a bounce-back season next year, making his contract manageable for at least one more season.
Conor Garland’s performance
Conor Garland has had a tough time finding a permanent set of linemates as he’s been moved up and down the lineup. Despite that, he’s been one of the team’s most effective 5-on-5 players. While his raw counting stats don’t jump off the page, much of that can be attributed to a lack of power play opportunities and a career-low shooting percentage.
At 5-on-5, Garland has the second-highest expected goals percentage on the team, as well as the second-most goals scored. Still, this season hasn’t been without its ups and downs as he was the target of some recent criticism from Boudreau.
“I need more out of him,” commented the head coach following a loss to the St Louis Blues. “You’ve got to use your teammates and I think he could’ve passed the puck, he carried it a little too much.”
There have been plenty of trade rumors surrounding Garland, though the Canucks don’t need to rush to make a decision. He’s signed to a very reasonable contract for another four years, giving the club plenty of options as to what to do with him. Another year could be very beneficial for Garland as he finds his spot in this lineup, potentially resulting in a much better year.
Evaluating the trade as a whole
While it may be too early to judge Garland and Ekman-Larsson’s fit with the Canucks, we can still make conclusions about the trade. The future assets that the team surrendered, namely the first and second-round picks, as well as the acceptance of Ekman-Larsson’s behemoth of a contract, make it easy to grade this trade as a loss for the Canucks. The resulting salary cap squeeze could very well cost the Canucks one of their best players over the next few years.
The trade is done now and the Canucks need to focus on future moves. Can Garland and Ekman-Larsson take a step forward next season? Was this season partially an acclimation period for the two players? While only time will tell for sure, the Canucks are sure hoping so. This season was difficult for everyone with the terrible start and a fresh crack at it could be exactly what these players need to level up.
Do you expect Garland or Ekman-Larsson’s play to improve next season? If so, by how much? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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