While there has been a lack of clarity regarding Mattias Ekholm’s injury, on Friday the defenceman did make reference to the Oilers training program.
This just in – Mattias Ekholm is extremely important to the Oilers. His impact on the team and the blue line in particular was clear, after he arrived at the end of February from Nashville.
In terms of a purely statistically impact, the Oilers went a sizzling 18-2-1 to finish the regular season with Ekholm in the lineup. While unrealistic, this would have projected to 144 points over the course of an entire 82-game schedule.
Further, the Oilers allowed 56 goals in the 21 games the Swedish native played in, which works out at 2.67 per contest. In the 61 games before his arrival in Edmonton, they allowed an average of 3.34 goals.
Go past the numbers, and you have a player who improved the overall defensive effort from the team. Ekholm achieved this with his renowned combination of leadership, hard work, toughness and durability.
On a more individual level, the 33-year-old proved to have a significant impact on Evan Bouchard. The young defenceman grew in confidence alongside his veteran teammate, which resulted in better performances on the ice.
A seemingly minor injury
When considering all this, the last thing the Oilers want or need is an injury to Ekholm. However, this is exactly what the team and the player are contending with at the moment.
The 2009 fourth round draft pick confirmed at the beginning of training camp that he had suffered a hip flexor injury. However, the official line was that it was nothing serious, and he would be ready for the beginning of the regular season.
Despite being seemingly nothing to worry about, days passed with Ekholm still not appearing on the ice for practice. Still, we were told not to be concerned, and that the blue-liner would appear in at least one preseason game.
However, something just didn’t seem quite right and it was only on Friday, that more was finally revealed about the extent of the injury. As per Robert Tychkowski of the Edmonton Sun, Ekholm said:
"“It’s just been going on a bit longer than I maybe anticipated. … It’s been way slower than I thought. I thought I would be full on (ready to go) a couple of weeks ago and I haven’t been, so we’re being cognizant of that.”"
Ekholm did add that he’s feeling good, and in this respect he also returned to practice on the same day he spoke to Tychkowski and the rest of the media. However, there’s now a good chance he will miss at least the season opener, if not the home opener as well.
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The cause of the injury
The Oilers have not been very forthcoming about how the injury happened in the first place. However, it turns out they may well have contributed towards causing it, albeit inadvertently.
While not going into too much detail, Ekholm did shed some light on Friday. He said:
"“It’s a thing that went on over the summer. I’ve had one training program for 12 years, more than that, (then) you come to a new team with new trainers and new staff that implement new stuff and I think this was more just an accident.”"
As much as it must be frustrating to know the injury could have been avoided, Ekholm believes it was just down to happenstance. He said:
"“I don’t think I was trying to do too much. It was just a flukey thing that happened, that’s been lingering a little bit.”"
Regardless of how the injury happened and who — if anyone — is to blame, the biggest concern right now is how long it will linger. As the left-hand shot said:
"“I’m hopeful it’s just going to go away, to be honest. I have no experience of having this, I haven’t missed many games in my career. I’ve never dealt with anything like this before so I have no idea. I hope I don’t have to (worry about it all year), but we’ll see.”"
Those last comments on their own are potentially alarming. No matter how dangerous the offence is, the Oilers need better and more consistent play from the defence this season in order to live up to their billing as Stanley Cup favourites, hence why Ekholm is so important.
If the former Predator has to play with the injury or miss an extended period of games, it has the potential to negatively impact the team as a whole. And to think this worst-case scenario could be the result of a freak occurrence in summer during training.