It’s been a long time since fans have seen an elite player in the desert. When Oliver Ekman-Larsson was drafted 6th overall, it was somewhat of a controversial draft pick. Ekman-Larsson was ranked the 4th best European skater heading into the draft, but ended up becoming the second European selected, after Victor Hedman. He was drafted ahead of highly touted prospects such as Magnus Paajarvi, Jacob Josefson and Jordan Schroeder (none of whom really worked out as planned). However, now 7 years removed from the draft, Ekman-Larsson is an established elite defensemen with an Olympic silver medal. So just how good is Ekman-Larsson?
Despite being recognized by many as an offensive defenseman, Ekman-Larsson is an elite possession player. In terms of possession compared to their team as a whole (or Relative Corsi for percentage), Ekman-Larsson is one of the best in the game.
When Ekman-Larsson is on the ice, his team controls 5.61% more of the shot attempts than when he is off the ice. To put this into perspective, the Kings only control 4.42% more of the shot attempts when reigning Norris trophy winner Drew Doughty is on the ice. The Coyotes’ goal differential improves by 7.86% when he is on the ice, and their expected goal differential improves by 9.16%. From this we can determine that not only do the Coyotes control a larger share of the shots, but the shots they are getting come from higher danger areas on the ice. Now this becomes even more impressive when you consider that his primary defensive partners included Connor Murphy and Nicklas Grossman, both of whom are below replacement level in almost every major statistic. Ekman-Larsson is tied to two anchors, and still manages to thrive.
The Coyotes are not a very good team. To be frank, they currently stink. A very strong asset in OEL’s game is his ability to raise up the players around him. He creates chemistry on the ice, and makes every single one of his teammates better.
From the chart we can see that there is not a single one of his teammates who performs better without OEL, which is nearly unprecedented. Once again, if we look at Drew Doughty as a reference point, we can see a much smaller difference, and some players who are hindered by sharing the ice with Doughty.
In fact, there is little about Drew Doughty which is better than OEL. Drew Doughty is considered the best defensemen in the NHL widely enough that he is given an award, but when compared to our Swedish sensation it’s clear OEL is one of the best in the NHL.
Doughty plays more minutes than OEL, and has the slight edge in shot suppression, but aside from that Ekman-Larsson plays better despite facing harder competition and playing on a weaker team. Players with 90% or higher similarity to Ekman-Larsson include Zdeno Chara (2010-2011), Brent Burns (2010-2011), Shea Weber (2008-2009) and other big names including Kris Letang, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Marc Giordano and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Even though Ekman-Larsson is considered by many to be an offensive specialist who is limited defensively, OEL’s strongest attribute is his shot and goal suppressing abilities. Oliver is one of the best in the NHL at preventing the other team from getting the puck to his net, which is the primary goal for a defensemen. The 55 points and 21 goals he adds is just gravy.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson is undeniably one of the greatest defensemen in the game. He is only 24 years old, but is a legitimate Norris candidate. He is also locked up for three more seasons at a very team friendly cap hit of $5,500,000. Likely the only reason he isn’t already considered a favourite for the Norris is because he plays in Arizona, a team with little media coverage which doesn’t make the playoffs very often. OEL plays a style which allows him to be effective and efficient and he should be able to maintain a high level of play for years to come, and the fans in Arizona couldn’t be happier to have him.
(WOWY and distribution charts courtesy of Corsica.hockey, Radar charts courtesy of Ryan Stimson (@RK_Stimp), all salary data courtesy of General Fanager)