It’s mid-July in Arizona, scorching hot with a touch of monsoon, but there’s no place Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson would rather be.
“I think it’s important that you show the organization support,” said Ekman-Larsson. “They showed me that they believed in me and I wanted to show them that I believe in them.”
[SPECIAL SECTION: Coyotes Hockey]
Ekman-Larsson, fresh off signing an 8-year contract extension that will keep in a Coyotes sweater for the next nine seasons, made an appearance at the Boys & Girls Club in Scottsdale Wednesday, presenting a check for $125,000 to a gym full of elated, star-struck kids.
“This is a special day for us,” said Ekman-Larsson who flew back from his home in Sweden in part to make the check presentation. “We’re trying to do the right thing in the community. We’re trying to make a difference in these kid’s lives. That’s what we stand for as an organization.”
Ekman-Larsson’s willingness, and more importantly eagerness, to take part in Wednesday’s event is the first of what will likely be many public appearances by the all-star defenseman. By way of his play on the ice and a new long-term contract, it’s safe to say that the 26-year-old is now the undisputed ‘face of the franchise.’
“He’s an elite talent,” said general manager John Chayka who was on hand Wednesday. “Anytime you sign someone for nine years, you’re not only signing the player but you’re signing the person and I think being here today obviously shows what kind of person Oliver is. He’s obviously committed to the community.”
Ekman-Larsson’s long-term future with the organization was murky at best last winter as the swede struggled to find his way under new head coach Rick Tocchet. A strong spring finish though for Ekman-Larsson and the Coyotes team began paving the way to a new contract.
“I’m super excited for nine more years,” said Ekman-Larsson. “I’ve always said that I wanted to be a part of this and I really believe we can win here and that’s why I decided to sign that contract.”
“It’s a great honor that he chose to sign with us,” said Chayka. “And now it’s a great responsibility for myself to build a great team around him. I’m really excited he’s going to be a leader of our organization for a long time.”
Ekman-Larsson sought advice from many including Shane Doan before making his ultimate decision.
“It was nice to talk to him for a little bit to find out how he looked at his career,” said Ekman-Larsson. “That was such a big help for me. He said don’t worry about what anybody else thinks. Do what’s best for you. So here I am.”
“[Doan] created the foundation upon with which we’re built,” said Chayka. “I think Oliver takes it very seriously now in terms of carrying that baton. Now we want to evolve as an organization and take that next big step to being an elite contender year after year.”
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