When there is smoke surrounding a certain player from the Edmonton media, there is usually fire. There is a ton of smoke from people like Jim Matheson when it comes to the Oilers and Arizona defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
OEL has long been considered a premiere puck-moving defender in the league, and many believe his time in Arizona is running out. Could he be the Oilers target as they continue to chase after that elusive number one defender?
Why Is He Out There?:
OEL has just one season remaining on his contract and is making $7,000,000 in real dollars during the 2018-19 season. That’s a lot of money for a team on strict budget like Arizona. On top of that, the rebuilding Coyotes are likely still a year or two away from competing for a playoff spot.
If OEL isn’t going to commit to a contract this summer, then the Coyotes could explore trade options for him, attempting to get some younger assets to help in the rebuilding process.
What Does He Do Well?:
Ekman-Larsson has been a positive possession player (via hockey reference) in the possession hole that is Arizona. His Corsi For percentage of 51.4% was very strong this past season, and he did that with a young team that was the worst in the NHL for a long stretch.
OEL can handle big minutes, evident by his 23:41 TOI per game this past season. That was right in line with the 26-year old’s career average for TOI, which is 23:39 per game.
Boxcars wise, OEL posted 14-28-42 in 82 games this past season, just over .5 points-per-game. He’s hit forty points on three separate occasions in his career, and hit 50 points during the 2015-16 season.
I don’t think it is crazy to suggest that OEL could hit 50 points in Edmonton, considering the Oilers have more talent than arguably any Arizona team that OEL has suited up for over the course of his career.
He is a left-shot defender, but is a strong five-on-five player and can handle heavy duty on the powerplay. To my eyes, this is a top-pairing blueliner.
Here’s a look at Ekman-Larsson’s scouting report via The Hockey News.
Assets: An incredibly smooth skater, he moves effortlessly all over the ice. Has great instincts for the blueline position and displays a knack for scoring points. Makes few mistakes with the puck. Boasts a good frame, too.
Flaws: Is a little inconsistent in the defensive zone, so he needs to improve in those rare moments when he does not have the puck while on the ice. Also, his slap shot from the point lacks some consistency.
Career Potential: Elite puck-moving defenseman.
Where Will He Play/Where Should He Play?:
Ekman-Larsson is a top-pairing defender in the NHL and would play that role on about 20 different clubs. He’s also a guy that can play on your powerplay and occasionally help out on the PK if needed.
In Edmonton, he’s a better defender than Oscar Klefbom so he’d play that top-pairing role with the Oil. There is little doubt he’d be fed a steady diet of powerplay time as well.
What Will He Cost?:
OEL is in the final year of a contract that counts $5,500,000 against the cap. As I said earlier, however, he’ll earn $7 million in real dollars this coming season.
In terms of a contract extension, OEL will likely generate the max term and collect between $7,500,000 and $8,000,000 annually. He’s going to be expensive to get locked up.
In terms of trade assets to get him here, the Coyotes will doubtless be interested in the 10th overall pick in this June’s draft. I think defender Darnell Nurse, also a left-shot option, will be of interest here too. Perhaps a young forward like Jesse Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto would pique the Yotes interest as well.
In any trade, however, Edmonton would have to send some sort of money back. Expensive veterans like Kris Russell and Andrej Sekera, both also left-shots, could be part of the discussion here. This would have to be a big trade.
I tend to agree with Matheson when he continues to bring OEL up, insisting the Oilers have serious interest in the player should he shake loose. OEL is a legit top-pairing defender who can move the puck and play on the powerplay. He’s another perfect fit for this Edmonton club.
The only downside? He’s a left-shot option when the Oil are likely looking for a right-shot.
Regardless, if Arizona can’t re-sign him and is open to a deal, Peter Chiarelli should be on the phone twice a day.