Oliver Ekman-Larsson can’t wait to get to work with the Vancouver Canucks.
The 30-year-old defenseman was traded to the Canucks along with forward Conor Garland by the Arizona Coyotes on Friday for forwards Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel, the No. 9 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, a second-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and a seventh-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
“I just want to get started right now, to be honest with you,” Ekman-Larsson said Saturday from Sweden. “I just want the summer to be over and to move to Vancouver. I’m super excited about the fresh start and the coaching staff, it seems great, and the whole organization seems great. So I’m super excited to be a part of it.”
Ekman-Larsson played his first 11 NHL seasons, including the past three as captain, for the Coyotes, who selected him with the No. 6 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. But he was ready for a change of scenery after trade rumors shrouded him for much of the past season and views the Canucks as a team on the rise that he can help become a Stanley Cup contender.
Although Vancouver (23-29-4) finished last in the seven-team Scotia North Division, missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons, Ekman said he sees their potential with young players such as forwards Elias Pettersson, 22 and Brock Boeser, 24, defenseman Quinn Hughes, 21, and goalie Thatcher Demko, 25.
“That’s why I put them on my list and wanted to come here,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I think they have a young group of guys that are unbelievable players that are ready to be superstars and win in this league, and that’s what I want to do. I want to be able to help young guys and I want to be on a winning team. I haven’t been doing a lot of winning and it’s unfortunate, but hopefully I will change that here in Vancouver and be part of a winning culture.”
The Canucks are counting on that after giving up a good piece of their future in terms of draft picks to acquire Ekman-Larsson and Garland.
“We didn’t take lightly moving that ninth pick overall in the draft,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. “That was a hard decision to make, but we just looked at everything that we could accomplish by doing [the trade] and so we made a decision as a hockey ops group to go ahead and do it. … But part of this whole reasoning is that we got to take the next step as a team, and we have to make our team better going into next season.”
There is some risk involved, particularly with Ekman-Larsson having six seasons remaining on the eight-year contract he signed with Arizona on July 1, 2018.
Ekman-Larsson admits he didn’t play well enough this season, when he scored 24 points (three goals, 21 assists) in 46 games and tied forward Phil Kessel for worst on the Coyotes with a minus-17 rating. In fact, Ekman-Larsson acknowledged that his play has dropped off the past four seasons but said he has been working hard to get back to the level he was at when he was selected to play in the NHL All-Star Game in 2015 and 2018.
“I think I’m still young and I still have a lot of hockey in me,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I’ve kind of been working out a little bit more and a little bit smarter. I feel like that’s been helping me a lot. I felt that I’ve been struggling over the last four years. Before that, I was going great and you always go through times like that in a long career, but it’s the way that you get out of it and the way that you learn from it, and I feel like I’ve been doing that.”
Former Canucks forward Daniel Sedin, who rejoined the organization along with twin brother Henrik as a special adviser to the GM on June 22, said he believes Ekman-Larsson can regain his past form partly because of his attitude.
“He took full responsibility for the last couple of years and that’s what you want in a player, too,” Sedin told Sportsnet650 radio in Vancouver on Saturday. “There was no blame, took it on himself and he’ll get a fresh start here. We know he’s excited to come here. He loves the pressure of being the guy, and I think he’s up for the challenge.
“He’s got a lot (to give). I think he plays an overall very good game. He’ll kill penalties, he can be a physical, he’ll be good on our power play and the main thing for me is he’s professional, he’s a leader. He’ll be so good with Quinn and [defenseman Jack] Rathbone I think, teaching them how to be professional.”
Ekman-Larsson has great respect for the Sedins from having played with them on various occasions with Sweden’s national team, and their return to Vancouver is just another reason why he believes the team is headed in the right direction.
He’s also looking forward to getting to work with coach Travis Green and assistant Brad Shaw, who was hired by the Canucks on June 9 to oversee their defense.
But Ekman-Larsson knows that ultimately it will be up to him what he brings to the Canucks. After missing the postseason eight of the past nine seasons with the Coyotes, he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“I know that I’m a good player. I know that I can play top minutes in this league,” Ekman-Larsson said. “So it’s just a matter of getting back to that. I’ve been working out a lot the last couple years to get back to that, and I feel comfortable that I’m going to be able to help the Canucks out a lot.”