Mattias Ekholm: Lessons Learned
Photo credit:Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
2 months ago
Mattias Ekholm found out early what mentorship looks like when he was breaking into the NHL with the Nashville Predators. When it came to learning the ropes, all he had to do was keep an eye on Shea Weber. Same for some other youngsters named Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and, later, Seth Jones.
To say Weber helped bump that group of young blueliners along the development curve is to understate, even if he didn’t set out to be a role model. They watched, learned and listened. Factor in the talent they brought to the table and it’s not a big surprise how they turned out. Ekholm saw it first-hand.
Jump ahead a decade to Ekholm joining the Edmonton Oilers in the trade for Tyson Barrie Feb. 28, and I think we saw some of the same mentorship dynamic at play after coach Jay Woodcroft paired the big Swede with Evan Bouchard. Yes, Bouchard was already on his way, but mercy was he good with Ekholm riding shotgun for the final quarter of the season.
While Ekholm, 33, won’t be on the ice for the first few days of training camp because of a hip flexor injury, I’m expecting we’ll see more of the same solid, predictable play from him this season, be it alongside Bouchard or maybe 22-year-old countryman Philip Broberg. Coming into camp, Broberg has 69 NHL games on his resume, 46 of those coming last season. How might Broberg fare with Ekholm in a Swedish tandem?
IT COMES WITH THE JOB
Mar 20, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal scored by defensemen Mattias Ekholm (14) during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
“In Nashville we had some really great defencemen come through the system, but Shea Weber is the one who comes to mind,” said Ekholm. “Not only his on-ice player or whatever, but just the way he carried himself off the ice, the way he worked out. He was always that blue-collar type guy. He never thought he was better than anyone else.
“He was just so good. He was probably one of my favorite defencemen to watch. To have the chance to come up in the system with him as a captain was really good. I think you can ask Ryan Ellis. I think you can ask Roman Josi. I think you can ask Seth Jones. They’ll say the same thing.”
When you add Ekholm to a mix that includes time-tested veterans like Darnell Nurse, Cody Ceci and Brett Kulak, younger players like Bouchard and Broberg have some cover and time to develop instead of being thrown in the deep end before they can swim.
“It’s not that I go into anything trying have it as my job to help them because they’re great players,” Ekholm said. “Sometimes you just need to kind of talk to them, give them some advice and they figure it out. I think it was a perfect example with Evan last year.
“It wasn’t like I did anything to him (Bouchard) or told him to change something. It was more like, ‘Hey, just relax. You know you’re an offensive defencemen. You can’t really worry too much about the mistakes defensively, you’ve just got to make sure you make up for it offensively.’ I felt like after that he just thrived and played really well.”
WHAT ABOUT BROBERG?
We don’t know yet what Woodcroft’s defensive pairings will look like – beyond what they are to start camp. Where does Vincent Desharnais fit in the mix? Does he split time in a third pairing with Kulak or will it be Broberg? At some point, might we see a tandem of Ekholm and Broberg? I’d like to see what that looks like.
“I’m trying to talk to Brobie as much as I can too because he’s got all the skill,” Ekholm said. “He’s probably the best trained guy in the room. He skates well. He can defend. He’s big. He does have it all. Sometimes with young defencemen, they just need to find, mentally, that last little get-over-the-hump so to speak where they get comfortable enough to just play the game.
“I’m trying to do my best. Obviously, we’re both from Sweden so it’s easy. We can both talk Swedish. (I’ll) just try to give him as much advice as I can. At the same time, he just needs to figure it out mentally and just feel like, okay, it doesn’t matter if I make a mistake, I have to play my game and the good is going to come.”
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