Oliver Ekman-Larsson, aka “OEL”, and Conor Garland, aka “An Angry Elf”, “the Bugger”, etc., joined the Vancouver Canucks last July in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes. Tuesday night at Rogers Arena will be their very first chance to take on their ex-club, the only other NHL team for which the two players have ever played.
The Coyotes selected Ekman-Larsson in the first-round, 6th-overall in 2009, just behind Brayden Schenn to the Los Angeles Kings and just ahead of Nazem Kadri to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Comparisons shouldn’t be made. A 30-year-old left-shot defenceman from Karlskrona, Sweden, OEL played excellent hockey for the most part in Arizona while toiling in relative obscurity.
He was a bright spot for the club while spending a decade in hockey purgatory. The club only made the playoffs twice in the 11 seasons he was there, but they did make a run to the Western Conference Final in 2012. Otherwise the franchise was and has been a mess, most of it ownership and management related.
OEL put together a 55-point season from the blueline in 2015-’16 and tallied four other 40-point seasons. It could be argued that by the time he arrived in Vancouver, not many players in NHL history were more ready for a change of scenery. Although his scoring is down playing on the left side behind 22-year-old phenom Quinn Hughes, OEL’s overall game with the Canucks has been very good.
Garland experienced a shorter and less heralded development with Arizona, but by the time the trade was made his arrival in Vancouver carried as much hype and anticipation as OEL’s, if not more so. The 5th-round pick in 2015 had developed into an effective pest with a burgeoning scoring touch.
The 25-year-old winger from the South Shore area of Boston is the consummate shift disturber who draws significantly more penalty minutes from opponents than he takes himself. This season is a prime example, he has 18 PIM, he’s drawn 42. Although he’s slightly ahead of his “expected goal” analytic, he’s not so happy with his game as of late.
“I really haven’t played to my standards all year,” Garland said Tuesday morning,” there’s been some games, I’ve played well in some games, but it hasn’t been consistent. I think that is what’s most aggravating, I haven’t done it on a consistent basis and then recently it just hasn’t been there at all.”
Garland is pointless in his last six games but remains tied for second in scoring on a Vancouver Canucks team that fails to generate enough of it. He has ten goals and 24 points.
“You can produce and still not play well, but I just haven’t been playing well,” Garland added. “It’s aggravating and sucking sucks, it’s tough, it’s hard on the mind, but I’ll get out of it, there’s a lot of season to go … we want to make the playoffs, it’s a big push for us and I’ve got to be at my best to help us.”
“They’re all playing well,” Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau points out. “They’re all working hard, they’re all working on the defensive part of the game as well, and they’re getting chances but they’re not putting them in. But as long as we can continue winning, I’m not going to worry about his production,”
Garland will see time on the second power play unit Tuesday and Wednesday nights while OEL will be running the top unit with the Covid absence of Hughes.
The game could almost be considered a must-win given the Vancouver Canucks position in the standings and the games-in-hand held by the teams above them. As the Pacific Division remains unpredictable, the Canucks can take a solid step forward by winning two of their three games at home this week. In fact, they have to win them.
The two ex-Coyotes will be keys.