Mattias Ekholm will appear in at least one preseason game for the Edmonton Oilers after being out with a hip flexor, but is there any need to play him?
There is no denying the trade for Mattias Ekholm was a significant move by the Edmonton Oilers. It proved to be a game-changer, strengthening a blue line which had received plenty of criticism (a lot of it deserved).
Ekholm came as advertised, i.e. hard-working, consistent and durable. He also formed an excellent pairing with Evan Bouchard, helping to develop the young player’s confidence and performance level.
Additionally, the 33-year-old provided an excellent offensive boost. In fact (for what it’s worth) his four goals, 10 assists and 14 overall points in 21 games would have all projected to career-bests over the course of a full regular season.
As such, there was some initial concern when it was confirmed Ekholm would miss the beginning of training camp, due to a hip flexor. Fortunately for the Oilers and their fanbase, it was only a minor injury.
A smart approach with Mattias Ekholm
In any event, the Oilers have performed their due diligence and understandably taken a cautious approach with the 2009 fourth round draft pick. He’s going to play an even more vital role on the blue line this season and is needed at full strength and optimum health.
As such, there were some interesting comments from Jason Gregor of Oilers Nation, ahead of Monday night’s preseason game versus the Kraken. Gregor wrote:
"“I was told on Thursday, the Oilers are hopeful that Ryan McLeod and Mattias Ekholm will get into one, or both, of the final preseason games.”"
Granger goes on to ask what the blue line pairings could be, if Ekholm doesn’t play in the preseason and is then subsequently unavailable for opening night versus the Canucks in Vancouver. And really, that there is still some possible uncertainty over his status is the key in all of this.
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A bigger role for Mattias Ekholm
As already mentioned, the Swedish international is going to play an even bigger part for the Oilers this season. This will include seeing an increase on the average ice time of 20:47 in his 21 appearances following the trade to Edmonton. (Alluding to this, he did increase to an average of 21:53 in 12 playoff appearances for the Oilers.)
With all this in mind, there is just no need to rush Ekholm back. It’s not as if he needs the reps or experience, with him entering his 13th season in the NHL.
It’s undoubtedly best for all concerned in the long run. This season arguably represents the best chance yet for the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to win their first Stanley Cup, and it’s going to be a long slog.
Closer than ever
From Ekholm’s perspective, he knows how comparable the Oilers are to the Golden Knights, who knocked them out last season and went on to win the Stanley Cup. As per the Edmonton Oilers, speaking at the start of training camp, he said:
"“It’s something that we’ve been sitting on all summer. That feeling of it’s almost worse when you know you’re that close and to kind of let it slip away. It’s obviously exciting (though), because we have the same group pretty much and we know what we can do.”"
As much as Ekholm paired well with Bouchard, he’s practical about the potential for changes. He said:
"“I’m sure there’s not going to be the same pairings all year. They’re going to flip-flop and switch … I think we have some really great defencemen on this team. The young guys are coming up and I think will play a big part in our team this year, so I’m just more excited to see where it all ends up and whoever plays with whoever, it doesn’t really matter as long as we win games.”"
No matter the talent on the blue line, as proven last season, Ekholm takes the overall play to another level. As such, sit him out for the remainder of the preseason, because he really is that important to the Oilers’ chances of finally bringing a Stanley Cup back to Edmonton.