Will Ekman-Larsson Ever Win a Norris?
While this year’s Norris Trophy appears to be a shoot out between Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty, Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson is quietly putting together a career year at the Gila River Arena.
The 24-year old Swede has already equalled his previous best points total (44) with 26 games still remaining on the Coyotes schedule, and is enjoying a growing reputation around the NHL.
But the Karlskrona native is ‘at risk’ of becoming one of those unique players that stands to be considered among the games elite, but never receives the accolades to go along with it.
Now in his sixth NHL season, at even strength 5v5 Ekman-Larsson has been a negative Corsi player just once during his NHL career despite playing on some decidedly indifferent Coyotes sides, that have seldom courted the term ‘possession team’, and looks set to be the organisations defensive linchpin for the foreseeable future.
Put simply, the former Leksands blue liner is developing in to one of the NHL’s best defencemen, making those around him better.
Even while the Coyotes were slumping to the foot of the standings last season, finishing 29th overall with a league worst 97.1% PDO (tied for 30th with Edmonton), Ekman-Larsson still garnered Norris consideration, finishing 17th in voting.
General Manager Don Maloney was admirably honest about the clubs ‘willingness’ to tank last season, something which undoubtedly hurt Ekman-Larsson’s chances of receiving wider recognition for his efforts.
Arizona didn’t land Connor McDavid, but did add Erie Otters centre Dylan Strome to one of the best groups of prospects in the NHL. And with burgeoning stars like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair at the forefront of the clubs revival, the Coyotes look to be a franchise on the up again after back-to-back-to-back seasons of disappointment on the ice and seemingly endless ownership wrinkles off it.
The long and the short of it is that the club now appears settled in the area, hopes of a new Arena deal are high and on ice success looks to be on its way.
Theoretically it’s the kind of upturn that should lead to greater recognition for players like Ekman-Larsson, especially given the central role he plays on the team.
But there is still something that makes one wonder if the smooth skating Swede can ever be named as the NHL’s best defenceman.
Take this years candidates, which, again, seems like a two horse race at present – Karlsson has the numbers, Doughty has the media support. It’s hard to imagine Ekman-Larsson ever having either the statistical superiority or garnering the kind of ground swell the LA Kings’ blue liner is currently enjoying. Arizona is fun to watch right now, but is not a glamorous team. And, right or wrong, that hurts Ekman-Larsson.
There’s no sense he’ll enjoy the kind of ‘well it’s about time he won a Norris’ media drive others have – even in a ‘losing effort’ (e.g. a finalist, but not a winner) – and while the ‘what if he played on Team X’ debate would almost certainly always come out in his favour (because he’s been that good on the Coyotes…) his quality is perhaps just a little too easy to ignore in the face of other candidates in larger markets.
It may be that Ekman-Larsson will go through a similar phase to that which Pekka Rinne did with the Vezina – very good for a number of years, but never the best in a given year.
Sometimes that’s just the way things work out.