Ekman-Larsson hoping 2018 NHL All-Star selection provides springboard to improved 2nd half

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

For Oliver Ekman-Larsson, hearing he’s a NHL All-Star will never get old.

“It’s always fun to hear that you’re going to the all-star game,” said the Coyotes 26-year-old defenseman.

Ekman-Larsson will be the Coyotes lone representative Sunday at the league’s mid-season showcase in Tampa, FL.

“I think you should be happy and proud when you get a chance to go play with the best players in the world,” said Ekman-Larsson. “Just to hang around with them is going to be a lot of fun.”

It’ll be the second all-star appearance for Ekman-Larsson who was also played in the game as a 23-year-old in 2015. Ekman-Larsson says three year later, this experience will be different.

“It was a little different obviously,” said Ekman-Larsson. “It was my first time begin around superstars so I was super nervous back then. Hopefully I’m a little more relaxed this time and can just have fun with it.”

While it’s too strong to call his 2018 all-star selection “bitter sweet,” the good news comes amid an uncertain time for the Swede. The subject of multiple trade rumors, Ekman-Larsson has been trying to adjust to playing a different style of hockey under first year head coach Rick Tocchet.

“I just want him to be a little more aggressive,” said Tocchet. “It’s more mental than physical with him right now. He trying to find his game. There was a stretch though earlier this season for maybe 15 or 16 games when I thought he was the best defenseman in the league. We’re trying to regain that.”

Ekman-Larsson currently sits at -39 in the league’s plus/minus category, a number that ranks him dead-last in the NHL among defenseman. To be still named an all-star despite that bewildering plus/minus number speaks to the respect Ekman-Larsson has in NHL circles.

“Obviously I don’t think I’ve been playing very well this year,” said Ekman-Larsson. “But at the same time, I went through a lot last year so it’s kind of like getting back on track a little bit.”

What Ekman-Larsson is referring to is coping with the death of his mother. Annika Ekman lost her battle with cancer in April of 2017.

“I’m not going to blame it on that,” said a reflective Ekman-Larsson. “But at the same time, your mind is all over the place and you have to try and fight to stay focused on the game. It’s been tough and it’s going to take time. It’s not going away and I’m going to have to live with it but at the same time I need to learn how to handle that stuff.”

Shortly after his mother’s death, Ekman-Larsson helped Team Sweden to the gold medal at the IIHF World Championship. Afterwards, the defenseman said, “I played for my mom.”

Eight months later he’s hoping to lead the Coyotes to their own success story. Clearly there’s work to be done in that quest. Currently the Coyotes have 28 points, the worst total in the NHL.

“We’ve been playing better lately but obviously that’s not good enough,” said Ekman-Larsson. We have to focus on getting better and try to win some games.”

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