Photo credit:James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
It seems to me like Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland got exactly the player his team needed Tuesday when he acquired big Mattias Ekholm, who’ll be in the lineup tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs, from the Nashville Predators.
The deal, coming on the heels of Jesse Puljujarvi being sent to the Carolina Hurricanes, has Tyson Barrie and prospect Reid Schaefer going the other way along with a first-round draft pick in 2023 and a fourth-round pick in 2024. That’s a steep price, but you give to get.
I’m not thrilled about sending Barrie the other way because he’s been a good power play guy and a well-liked teammate since he arrived from the Maple Leafs in 2020-21, but when you weigh team needs against wants, Holland got the right guy in Ekholm. The Oilers don’t have trouble scoring goals, they have trouble preventing them five-on-five.
Ekholm, who turns 33 in May, fits the bill as the Oilers enter the stretch drive to playoffs. He brings 719 regular season games of experience with Nashville and 75 more in playoffs.
He’ll give you 21 or 22 minutes a game in the top four and while he doesn’t provide the sizzle that Erik Karlsson or Jakub Chychrun do, he’ll get you 25-35 points in a shutdown role and work the PK. He’s also a little bit pumped about playing with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl instead of against them.
WHAT THEY SAY
Feb 11, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm (14) clears the puck against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
“Honestly, it’s the biggest chance of my career to (get) myself a Stanley Cup ring,” Ekholm said Tuesday. “In this stage of my career to come to a team like this that obviously has expectations of winning . . . that’s all I am really focused on right now. It’s the two best players in the world and to be able to be on the same team with them is obviously super exciting. I know they have a bunch of other guys that really can put the puck in the net.
“As a defensive defenceman, I know that if we can get our defensive side of the game (going) and I’m doing my job, then I think we have a great chance of winning hockey games.”
I don’t know Ekholm beyond what I read and watch online, but Jason Bukala, who writes player analysis for Sportsnet, is a former scout with Florida and Nashville who knows Ekholm well. Bukala scouted for Nashville 2006-11 and was with the Predators when they drafted Ekholm in 2009. He knows the big Swede well.
“Ekholm, for me, was arguably the top defenceman available at this deadline,” writes Bukala. “He’s a durable, two-way defender who can be deployed in all situations. He’s capable with the puck but isn’t a player who will lead the rush often. Ekholm outlets well, keeps the play in front of him, and picks his spots when to join offensively as an extra layer. On the power-play he is equal parts shooter and distributor.
“He’s not punishing physically. Ekholm is more of an “area” defender. He isn’t shy, however, and will get in lanes to block shots when necessary. It’s somewhat difficult to put into words, but Ekholm is a player who relies on his high-end hockey IQ in all three zones. Oilers fans will appreciate his presence.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
We can’t say with any certainty what impact Ekholm will have before he’s even played a game – and before Holland is done tweaking the roster. Like I said, I don’t know much about Ekholm aside from what stats and YouTube clips tell me. Most of you are in the same boat. Again, I’ll defer to Bukala, who sees the bottom line this way.
“This must have been a difficult deal for the Oilers to make, but they recognized the need to stabilize their defensive zone further by adding a player who can play big minutes in all situations,” he said. “The draft picks will work themselves out in time. For today, the Oilers are a better team by swapping out Barrie for Ekholm.”
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