Friday, December 26, 2014

Oliver Ekman-Larsson Jersey Card

Well, the World Juniors are under way, and what better pretext to feature one of the NHL's most underrated defensemen, Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes. If this guy were playing in a hockey town - or anywhere on the East Coast - he'd no doubt be in the same conversations as Victor Hedman.

He's been on a 40-point pace each year since his sophomore season - again, with the Coyotes, a team who does have another big-minute defender in Keith Yandle but never really had top-notch talent up front to complete the plays started from the back end. He's often in the minuses (because the Coyotes) but still manages to get some Norris votes, finishing 7th in the race in 2012-13 (with three first-place votes) and 14th last year.

He has all the tools required to be among the elite at his position for a long time. His smooth and seemingly effortless skating hides dashing speed - not unlike Scott Niedermayer at a certain time. And his dazzling speed doesn't come on its own, as he can make plays at top speeds as well, not just blast forward and get lost in the moment.

Defensively, his style's closer to Nicklas Lidstrom's, though they're not on the same level. After all, Lidstrom's among the best of all time (definitely top-5 for me, with Doug Harvey, Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Larry Robinson), but Ekman-Larsson also has that near-perfect positioning and ability to just scoop the puck away from opponents at the right time.

Like Hedman, the 23-year-old already has extensive international experience, having won two silver (2011 World Championships and 2014 Olympics) and two bronze medals (2010 World Juniors and 2010 World Championships) with Team Sweden, with the swatch from this card seemingly from one of the latter two tournaments:
It's from In The Game's 2011-12 Canada Vs The World set (#IMM-18 of the International Material sub-set, the ''Black'' - or ''least rare'' variation), showing him wearing Sweden's classic blue uniform, with matching swatch.

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