GLENDALE - Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson appears poised to have a breakout season in the NHL.
Ekman-Larsson's three goals in four games this season are tops in the NHL among defensemen and tied for fifth for all skaters.
"Ekman-Larsson has taken the next step," Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett said after Saturday's 4-1 win over Winnipeg. "He is a good player that is trying to get better every day. In practice he works hard, in games he works hard and he is starting to get rewarded for his hard work."
Ekman-Larsson is certainly making a name for himself in 2011-12. And a few nicknames.
Many fans have been referring to Ekman-Larsson simply as "OEL" since Phoenix selected him with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Others prefer "The Hyphen." And after last night's game, Coyotes captain Shane Doan made it known that he and his teammates call Ekman-Larsson "Harry Potter" because of his resemblance to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's most famous student (see photo).
"It is uncanny, if you put the glasses on him, how much he looks like him," Doan said."It's scary."
Ekman-Larsson is a 20-year-old Swede who is working on his English. Understandably, he's a man of few words in his post-game interviews.
"It's always fun to score and I feel more comfortable out there," Ekman-Larsson said after Saturday's game. "I only had one goal last year, but I'm playing more and I feel better and I'll try to keep it up."
Tippett raved about Ekman-Larsson during training camp and continued to do so after Saturday's win.
"That position is a hard position for young players to play and what you see in Ekman-Larsson is that he is really buying into the details of the game," Tippett said. "He is making good, simple plays. He is not getting himself in trouble and his skill is really showing."
Ekman-Larsson has been paired with veteran Adrian Aucoin, who is 18 years his senior. By all accounts, Aucoin has been a good mentor for Ekman-Larsson, and Aucoin's steadiness in the defensive zone has enabled OEL/The Hyphen/Harry to be more aggressive in the offensive zone.
"I think last year he showed flashes and I think the reason why he was doing that was because he didn't really know any better," Aucoin said. "Now he knows how really good he can be and that makes a big difference."
Aucoin and Ekman-Larsson sit next to each other in the dressing room. Aucoin said the young blueliner is always eager to talk about the game and listen to words of advice.
"He's as easygoing as they come," Aucoin said. "It's actually ridiculous how easy the task of helping him out is because he'll work as hard as he can and do anything anybody tells him. He's a great guy to have around in that aspect."
New Coyotes goalie Mike Smith also has been impressed by Ekman-Larsson.
"The kid's got all the skill in the world to be an elite defenseman in this league," Smith said.
• Kodette LaBarbera, who is co-leading a fund-raising effort to help the families of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team that were affected by the tragic plane crash that took place last month in Russia, tells me that approximately 20,000 memorial bracelets have been sold thus far.
Memorial bracelet for the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. "We've had orders from Australia, Germany, France, Austria, Russia, Israel, Ireland, and all over the U.S. and Canada," said Kodette, who is married to Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera. "It's been amazing to see how many corners of the world we have touched with these bracelets… All hockey wives and girlfriends have been so eager to help, and it's been an amazing combined effort. It's so great to see the unity."
All of the money raised is going to families through a partnership with Coyotes Charities and the Arizona Community Foundation.
The bracelets again will be on sale at Jobing.com Arena on Tuesday night when the Coyotes host the Chicago Blackhawks.