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Oliver Ekman-Larsson being noticed as possible Norris Trophy candidate

Phoenix Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson moves the puck up the ice before scoring during the first period of the NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers, Monday, March 24, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Oliver Ekman-Larsson has quietly turned into one of the best defensemen not just on the Arizona Coyotes’ roster, but in the entire NHL.

Last season, Ekman-Larsson tied a franchise record for goals in a season by a d-man with 23, tying Phil Housley’s total from when the franchise was still in Winnipeg during the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons.

Ekman-Larsson also led the team with seven game-winning goals, which was tied for most among defensemen in the NHL.

In addition, Ekman-Larsson earned the “A” on his jersey after the trade of Keith Yandle in February, something that he will keep this season and probably until Shane Doan leaves or retires. At that point he will likely just switch letters from “A” to the “C.”

All of this success has raised the expectation bar for Ekman-Larsson both locally and nationally. Chris Johnston of SportsNet thinks that the Coyotes defenseman could contend to win the Norris Trophy as early as this season.

Big things have been expected of Ekman-Larsson since he was drafted sixth overall in 2009, and his career has maintained a steady upward progression since. One scout for a Western Conference-based team says the 24-year-old is now playing at a “Norris Trophy level.”

The biggest change in his game was a dramatic jump in his shot output, with his total of 264 second among defencemen to Erik Karlsson and 11th overall. He also experienced a spike in shooting percentage, which is why it will be tough to repeat the goal total.

A positive for Ekman-Larsson is that he may not have to score 23 goals to lead the Coyotes offense this season. The influx of young talent being added onto the team ideally would take the pressure off the 24-year-old Swede and could lead to even more points from the 2015 NHL All-Star.

Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and even Dylan Strome could be on the Opening Night roster when the puck drops next Friday in Los Angeles, giving the Coyotes a much-needed boost in skill on the offensive side.

Those three players, along with free agent veterans Antoine Vermette and Brad Richardson, along with the now-healthy Mikkel Boedker and Martin Hanzal, will make the offense much more formidable. This can help him improve his point total to well-past his career-high of 44 that he set during the 2013-14 season.

If Ekman-Larsson duplicates his 2014-15 output or surpasses it, there’s no reason why the defenseman couldn’t bring home the first Norris Trophy in the history of the franchise.

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