Aren’t the personal, one-on-one battles of the playoffs great?
Going into the opening round of the playoffs against the mighty and storied Chicago Blackhawks, most analysts were giving the ‘Hawks skilled lines an edge over the Phoenix Coyotes gritty style of defense-first hockey. I admit, though I favored the Coyotes with my choice, I thought the young guys would struggle against some of the top NHL players and it would take an outstanding performance from Mike Smith to win the series for the Coyotes.
But what I didn’t count on was the outstanding play of young Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Constantly being thrown on the ice against the likes of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, OEL not only held his ground, but succeeded in a way I honestly did not think he was ready for.
First off, let’s clear the stat-filled air. Yes, OEL finished the series with a -3 and Kane a +1, but aside from that, the two are pretty darn similar. OEL (a defenseman) finished with just one point less than Kane (a top-line forward) in the series. OEL averaged 26:31 of ice time per game compared to Kane’s 21:58. OEL had 12 shots, Kane 16.
Comparable stats, yes. Until you look just a small bit closer. OEL, a 20-year-old kid playing in his first-ever NHL playoffs, was matching the offensive production of Patrick Kane, former Calder Memorial Trophy winner, NHL All-Star and Stanley Cup winner. Some say Kane had a rough series or was struggling in his role as a center, but there was another factor in Kane’s way: Oliver Ekman-Larsson.