Though it had been expected since the day he signed his long-term extension with the team, Oliver Ekman-Larsson will finally have a new letter sewn onto his sweater this season. The Arizona Coyotes have officially named their star defenseman team captain, becoming just the fourth player to hold the honor since the franchise moved from Winnipeg. Keith Tkachuk, Teppo Numminen and Shane Doan now have company in the exclusive group. Coyotes GM John Chayka released a statement about his new captain:
Oliver is a tremendous player and person. On the ice, he leads by example and is one of the game’s premier defensemen. Off the ice, he is greatly admired and respected by his teammates, coaches and training staff and is also one of our most active players in the community. He is loyal, the consummate professional and a fierce competitor and I’m confident that he’ll be an excellent captain for the Coyotes for many years to come.
Ekman-Larsson will move into the role just as the Coyotes start to believe they can compete for a playoff spot, with an exciting young core headlined by star rookie Clayton Keller. Though now 27, the Swedish defenseman will be in Arizona for quite some time after signing an eight-year extension this offseason. That sort of stability is huge for a leadership role of this magnitude, and deserved by a player who has found success even while the team struggled at the bottom of the standings.
Scoring 14 goals in 2017-18 wasn’t a surprise for Ekman-Larsson, who is regularly near the top of the leaderboard in scoring among NHL defensemen and has posted five straight double digit goal seasons. His career high came in 2014-15 when he scored 23, and he already sits just six goals behind Numminen for the franchise lead. The biggest test now for Ekman-Larsson will be getting the Coyotes back to the playoffs, something he hasn’t experienced since his first full season in the league.