Arizona Coyotes name Oliver Ekman-Larsson captain
The Arizona Coyotes announced Thursday that defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson has been named the 16th captain in franchise history.
There’s no better guy for the job.
Just ask the guy who did the job better than anyone.
— Arizona Coyotes (@ArizonaCoyotes) September 13, 2018
Ekman-Larsson, who enters his ninth NHL season at the age of 27, was awarded an eight-year contract extension on July 1, worth a reported $8.25 million average annual value. He previously served as alternate captain and will now fill the captain vacancy that was left open for a season.
“I think it’s a great honor and I’m very excited and thankful for getting this chance,” Ekman-Larsson told ArizonaSports.com. “I’m thankful that [head coach Rick Tocchet] and [general manager John Chayka] believe in me and think that I will be a leader for this team.”
Ekman-Larsson is the team’s first captain since Shane Doan wore the “C” for 13 seasons and retired after the 2016-17 season.
“I think just being around Shane Doan for six years helped me a lot,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I talked to him (Wednesday) and he’s like, ‘Yeah, you don’t have to — just be yourself and do what you have been doing up to this point because that’s why they’re naming you the captain.’ And I feel like hearing something like that from probably one of the best captains in the NHL of all time, I think that meant a lot to me.”
Ekman-Larsson is a left-shot defenseman who plays on Arizona’s top defensive pairing and is a two-time All-Star. But his season last year saw a minus-28 rating while he adapted to a new relationship with his first-year head coach, Tocchet.
The way he handled those stresses was part of what led to his captaincy this year.
“I saw him face a little bit of adversity at the start — it didn’t really go the way you wanted, and I liked the way he handled it,” Tocchet said. “The relationship we had grew as the season went on. His relationship with the players, the same thing. You could tell that guys were starting to really gravitate towards him, and I think he finished really strong. So those are character traits that I like in a captain. Not everything’s going to go great. It’s how you deal when you face adversity, and he had a little bit of adversity last year and he dealt with it.”
The decision to name Ekman-Larsson the captain needed time. When Tocchet first took over as head coach, he wasn’t well-acquainted with the players. He was an outside hire, one who had been with the organization before but not in this era of the Coyotes.
For that reason in part, the Coyotes’ captaincy remained empty last season after Doan retired.
“I kind of knew a little bit about the guys on the ice, but not off the ice, and I wanted to take my time,” Tocchet said. “As the season transpired, the one thing that stood out for me for OEL: he’s a good person — like a really good person. And I think that’s a quality that kind of jumped out at me. He cares about a lot of people, he cares about the community, and those are characteristics, traits of somebody being a leader.”
Tocchet himself played in the NHL for 18 seasons with six different teams, including the then-Phoenix Coyotes. Some of his captains included Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Ray Bourque and Keith Tkachuk.
“I think the captain – you’d like all your players to be this way – but I think with the captain it’s more symbolic, is you’re willing to give yourself up for the team,” Tocchet said. “I think that’s the big thing that I’ve preached this year is, ‘What are you willing to do for the team? Is your personal agendas and stuff put aside because of that?’ And I think the captain, it’s symbolic to that mantra.
“Whether it’s practice isn’t going well, it’s sluggish, you’re looking for your captain and your leaders to change the energy and attitude of that practice. Same thing in the game: Pressure’s on, team’s not playing that well, what’s the demeanor of your captain and your leadership group? Do they make people feel comfortable because they’re heading adversity straight on? Those are the certain things I noticed from great captains, that they didn’t hide.”
Not only do the Coyotes view OEL as someone with leadership traits, he’s also someone with stability. The contract extension this summer gives the team that much more comfort with putting the “C” on the franchise defenseman.
“Obviously getting Oliver signed long-term, Antti Raanta signed long-term, extending Nik Hjalmarsson, we brought in Rick Tocchet last year, he’ll be here long-term — you put your pieces in place and then you pick your horses and they go out and run,” Chayka said. “As a manager you always want to put your bets on the best people possible. That’s a part of what we’ve done here, that’s why I feel so fortunate and so excited about the future moving forward.”
Ekman-Larsson will learn on the job what being a captain is like and what it means for him. In the meantime, he has an idea of what goals he’s aiming for.
“I want to be a guy that all my teammates and all of the guys around the organization trust and feel like they can come and talk to me if they need to talk about something, it doesn’t have to be hockey-related,” he said. “I just want to respect my teammates and everybody around the organization on and off the ice, like I’ve been doing, I feel like. And that’s what I’m going to keep doing.”