CRONKITE SPORTS

Coyotes’ Ekman-Larsson embraces ‘face of the franchise’ role

Jul 17, 2018, 2:57 PM
Oliver Ekman-Larsson plays floor hockey at the Boys & Girls Club in Scottsdale. Ekman-Larsson r...
Oliver Ekman-Larsson plays floor hockey at the Boys & Girls Club in Scottsdale. Ekman-Larsson recently signed an eight-year extension and is the Coyotes’ all-time leader in game-winning goals by a defensemen.(Photo by Max Kelley/Cronkite News)
(Photo by Max Kelley/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Oliver Ekman-Larsson put it in writing. Arizona is where he wants to call home.

The Arizona Coyotes’ 26-year-old defenseman from Sweden signed an eight-year contract extension worth an average of $8.25 million per year on July 1. And on Wednesday, Ekman-Larsson flew back from his home country for his first appearance since the deal, then donated some of his earnings to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale.

The two-time NHL All-Star presented the organization with a $125,000 check and explained why his decision to stay with the Coyotes franchise was not a hard one.

“I wanted to make a big commitment to the Valley here and I really feel like this is home,” Ekman-Larsson said after the check presentation. “I always said I wanted to be here and wanted to play for the Coyotes here in Arizona. It was a pretty easy decision to make.”

Ekman-Larsson was drafted sixth overall by the Coyotes in 2009 and since 2014-15 has led NHL defensemen in points per-game (36) and game-winning goals (19). Coyotes president of hockey operations and general manager John Chayka said it was also a no-brainer to get a deal done with the player the organization believes is now the face of the franchise.

“(There was) no doubt from our end. He’s an elite talent, a premier defenseman, (and) an All-Star, both on and off the ice,” Chayka said. “He made a long-term commitment to us and I think it’s a great day for our fans, a great day for our organization. I think it speaks volumes to our ownership.”

Ekman-Larsson showed his commitment to the community Wednesday. After the check presentation and media press conference, he stuck around to hang out and play floor hockey with the star-struck children at the Boys & Girls Club.

“I’ve been a part of this for a couple years now and I think (the Boys & Girls Clubs) are doing a really good thing for the community and I want to be a part of making a difference in kids’ lives,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I want to be the guy who makes a difference on the ice and in the community too.”

But on the ice, the star blue-liner has a challenge ahead of him. The Coyotes are in a six-season playoff drought after losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2011-12 Western Conference Finals, and the pressure will be on Ekman-Larsson — the longest-tenured Coyote — to lead the franchise into a new era.

Ekman-Larsson doesn’t shy away from those expectations though. When asked if he embraces the role of being the cornerstone of the Coyotes’ franchise, he said he believed that was the objective when he signed his long-term extension.

“That’s the guy I want to be and that’s the player I want to be,” Ekman-Larsson said. “And I think that was the main goal when I signed the contract.”

Luckily for Ekman-Larsson, he can call on the last player to be hailed as the proverbial face of the franchise, Shane Doan, for advice. Doan and Ekman-Larsson played together for seven seasons in Arizona and Ekman-Larsson said he talked with the former Coyotes forward before deciding to sign long-term.

“I just was wondering how he was thinking when he stayed here his whole career and wanted to get his (opinion) on that,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I’m glad I had a good friend to call and a great captain.”

Chayka also felt like the extension was a passing of the torch from Doan to Ekman-Larsson, but admitted there’s still a lot to be done for the Coyotes to be where they want.

“Shane had a positive experience here in Arizona, he did a lot for the community, he did a lot for the organization. I think he created the foundation upon which we’re really built,” Chayka said. “And I think Oliver takes it very seriously now to kind of carry that baton and continue to evolve as an organization and hopefully take that next big step into being an elite contender year after year. So (we) still got a lot of work to do, it’s still kind of progressing down that path but with Oliver at the helm, we’re really excited.”

Coyotes president and CEO Ahron Cohen, who was promoted to his role recently, echoed Chayka’s excitement for the future, believing that the franchise has turned a corner.

“We’re developing some great local ties and local connections. We’re developing some success on the ice and bringing in the right people to the organization that will help take us forward,” Cohen said in an interview with azcentral.com. “We’re starting to see some of this positivity.”

Ekman-Larsson credits Chayka and coach Rick Tocchet with putting in the effort to create a winning roster. And he can’t wait to get back on the ice and prove he is worth the money.

“I think that we’re trying to do the right thing. I think that John Chayka and (Rick) Tocchet have been doing a really good job improving this team,” Ekman-Larsson said. “So I’m super excited about signing a new contract here and can’t wait for the season to start.”

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