Canucks Roll Call is assessing every player who held a significant place in the fortunes of the 2021-22 Vancouver Canucks season. We’ll be looking at the highs and lows they experienced during the recent campaign, as well as what the future holds for them in Vancouver. Today we feature D-man Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a.k.a. OEL.
Position: Left defenceman
2021-22 totals (GP-G-A-P): 79-5-24-29, 52 PIM
Contract Status: Five years remaining at an annual salary cap hit of $7.260-million. (The Arizona Coyotes retained a portion of his salary)
Simply put, Ekman-Larsson was solid. He’s very expensive, but in year-one of his Vancouver Canucks career he was worth it.
He changed his home environment for the first time in eleven seasons, leaving the only NHL franchise he had ever known. To make things just a bit more dicey, he ended up playing for two different head coaches in his first season with his new club. He adjusted and handled it with aplomb.
OEL brought a surprising amount of sandpaper to British Columbia. He’s always been a physical player, he had to be as the Arizona Coyotes number-one defenceman and captain for many years, but his angry side was hidden away down there in hockey’s purgatory. His temper was fun to watch.
When 22-year-old star defenceman Quinn Hughes was missing from the line-up for a total of six games, we saw the true value of the veteran Swede, and Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Bruce Boudreau loved the fact that OEL stepped right in and effectively quarterbacked the top power play unit.
His possession and shot analytics were around average, although second-best among the Canucks regular D-men. Hughes being far and away the best.
VHN predicted 30 to 35 points for Ekman-Larsson. He ended up with 29, a bunch of them coming late in the season with his increased special teams opportunities. A third of his points came on the power play.
OEL had a seven game stretch from March 24th to April 7th when he tallied seven points. He had a three assist night against his former team at Rogers Arena on February 8th, during a five-game stretch with another seven points.
The emotional highlight was definitely his return to Glendale, Arizona to play in his former home building for the first time on April 7th. Although it only came from a crowd of about 6,000, the standing ovation and love expressed were greatly appreciated.
Criticism came early in the season and often from those expecting offence from the veteran blueliner. He didn’t click under head coach Travis Green, finishing that initial 25 game stint with a grand total of five points. He didn’t exactly skyrocket with Boudreau’s arrival initially, finally finding the scoresheet on a regular basis at the start of February.
Otherwise it would be hard to point to a stint where his all-around play was consistently poor. It didn’t happen. He munched minutes effectively.
What the future holds
OEL broke his foot at the World Championships last month, but the injury isn’t expected to impact the bulk of his summer training or his arrival to September training camp.
Yes, $15-million is a lot of money to spend per season on two left-side defenceman, but as we’ve pointed out, championship teams, or near-championship-calibre teams in the NHL spend in the ball park of $30-million per year on their D-corps. So it’s not necessarily out of whack. It only gets out of whack if the soon-to-be 31-year-old native of Karlskrona loses his effectiveness.
There’s no way of accurately predicting when that might occur, if at all. Cynics would suggest sooner than later.
OEL possesses a no-move clause in his contract. So if a transaction is desired at some point, the Vancouver Canucks will not only need to time it in terms of the player’s value and ability, they’ll also have to get permission.
In the meantime, take advantage of the opportunity to give Hughes, a burgeoning superstar, a mentor from whom to learn. Although they’re different types of players, the discipline, mindset, and lessons learned will crossover. Let OEL play.