Mattias Ekholm: First Look
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
8 months ago
The saying is you never get a second chance to make a first impression. In that regard Mattias Ekholm delivered as advertised as fans at Rogers Place got their first look at the big Swede on the Edmonton Oilers blueline Wednesday in a 5-2 waltz over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The story we know. With the need for GM Ken Holland to bolster his blueline for a playoff push front and centre and names like Erik Karlsson and Jakob Chychrun at the top of the marquee, Holland instead swung a deal for Ekholm, a bearded and burly 32-year-old vet with more than 700 NHL games with the Nashville Predators on his resume.
The book on Ekholm is he’s more of a shutdown guy than a flash-and-dash defender. That said, it’s worth noting Ekholm had five seasons with 30-or-more points with Nashville. It is also noteworthy that after playing just two games with the Predators in 2011-12, he won the 2012 Borje Salming Award as the top Swedish-born defenseman in the SHL after being returned to Brynas. That doesn’t happen by accident.
Jump ahead to last night and Ekholm took the spotlight after a long travel day in a pairing alongside Evan Bouchard. He played 20:50, including 2:28 on the penalty kill, picked up an assist on the 3-1 goal by Zach Hyman, went plus-2, and had two shots on goal. He looked exactly like what this team needs on the blue line. Were you not impressed?
WHAT THEY SAY
“It’s been a whirlwind of 24 hours, but I’m super happy and excited to be here,” Ekholm said post-game. “It felt alright, but I had to catch my breath a couple of times there especially in the second (period). Just trying to go out there and do my thing and help the team to win.
“Obviously, you know the firepower this team has, so for me to come in to have a role of trying to shut their big lines down and keep the opposition to low scores is my job I’m guessing. So far, so good. It’s a first win and a first good start, so I’m happy.”
Yes, it’s only one game, but it looks like Ekholm gets around the ice just fine for a big man – he made a foray into the offensive end early that took him all the way down to the goal line. He moved the puck. He took the body in front of Stuart Skinner. I thought that Bouchard looked settled – most of the time – alongside him.
“I thought for (Ekholm), he has a way about him that I think inspires confidence in the people he’s on the ice with,” coach Jay Woodcroft said. “He has veteran poise. He’s a huge man, defends well, moves pucks, and for just having met a few hours earlier, I thought it was a positive sign that both him and (Bouchard) played the game that they played against a really good hockey team.”
Connor McDavid had his fifth consecutive two-goal game, Leon Draisaitl was a force even though he had just one assist and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had the joint jumping when he doffed the leather and went after Justin Holl for a high hit that put Kailer Yamamoto out of the game. That’s what provided the buzz in this game while Ekholm went about his business.
THE BOTTOM LINE
“There are a lot of positive signs there,” Woodcroft said of Ekholm. “He’s not even in the city for eight hours or so, and he’s left a good impression so far.”
My best guess is Holland will try to make another move or even two between now and the trade deadline at 1 p.m. Friday, likely for a forward, and maybe for depth on the right side of the blue line. As it stands today, if Ekholm ends up being the only addition Holland makes to the roster, it looks to me like he can be a difference maker — especially if he impacts Bouchard the way I think he might.
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