Oliver Ekman-Larsson plays his best games for the Vancouver Canucks when he has the most responsibility. Meaning, in games when Quinn Hughes is out of the line-up, OEL seems to relish the role of being the team’s top-tier left shot defenceman like he was for so many years in Arizona.
“And he starts getting points,” Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau said postgame. “You noticed that last time he went on a five or six game point streak.”
Wednesday night in Vegas against the Golden Knights was an excellent example. Even though he and partner Luke Schenn produced less ice time than the Travis Dermott and Tyler Myers pair, OEL’s night was dynamic. He finished with two primary assists, two shots-on-goal, and four hits in 19:53. He also played a key role in the Canucks 3-for-3 penalty kill.
“Don’t get me wrong, we miss Hughes an incredible amount, just his puck moving and skating alone,” Boudreau added. “But OEL, that’s what good players do. In the absence, somebody picks it up and I thought the ‘big 3’, when I say ‘big-3’, the veteran three of Schenn, Myers, and Larsson, were really good tonight.”
For the first time in his career, the former captain of the Coyotes returns to play against the franchise he called home for his first eleven NHL seasons. Ekman-Larsson was traded to Vancouver with Conor Garland last July.
His homecoming Thursday will involve three points of emphasis: Enjoy it, don’t try to do too much, and keep doing what you’re doing.
The only other time OEL played the Coyotes was at Rogers Arena on February 8th. He had a three assist night in 22:08 of ice time in a 5-1 win. It was also the first of three consecutive games missed by Hughes due to Covid protocol.
The very next night was an aberration. The Canucks got swamped by the New York Islanders, who scored three goals in the first 3:56 of the 1st period during a :31-second span. Come from behind hockey for the Canucks fell short 6-3. Ekman-Larsson scored a goal, had three hits, three blocked shots, and three shots on goal in 24:39.
The final game of Hughes’s absence came on the Saturday night, February 11th, when the Canucks beat the Toronto Maple Leafs at Rogers Arena 3-2. Thatcher Demko stood on his head. OEL contributed by playing a D high 25:31, adding an assist, three shots and two hits.
With Hughes still out of the line-up, Thursday night’s homecoming presents another opportunity.
Every eyeball will be on OEL and he’s proven that shouldn’t be a problem. The Vancouver Canucks are counting on him relishing it.
— Garland grew up in the Arizona organization, playing his first five pro seasons with the Coyotes or their AHL affiliate in Tucson. He’ll be jacked up for this first time back as well, although obviously not as significant for the fanbase as the return of the former captain.