Ekholm Is the Best Oilers’ Defenceman Since Pronger

Mattias Ekholm’s recent game brings back fond memories of when Chris Pronger patrolled the Edmonton Oilers blue line. He also helps keep fans like me going when Pronger joined the Anaheim Ducks on July 3, 2006 after leading the Oilers in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. This change was unexpected. It also hurt for a long time. The Oilers may have finally found a replacement for him when they traded for Ekholm just before this season’s trade close on Feb. 28.

Mattias Ekholm Edmonton Oilers
Mattias Ekholm, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Ekholm is everything Oilers fans could have hoped for when they traded Tyson Barrie, Reid Schaefer and draft picks to the Nashville Predators in exchange for the talented defenseman. NHL insiders might have known just how good Ekholm was during his time in Nashville, but now Oilers fans can see firsthand just how talented the 32-year-old is.

In his first eight games with the Oilers, Ekholm is already a plus-13 in the plus/minus column. He has helped stabilize Evan Bouchard’s game, relieving the entire defensive core through tough minutes and showing calm consistency in high-pressure situations.

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Many are already calling Ekholm and Bouchard the Oilers’ number one defensive pair. That could very well be true. NHL Network’s Steve Konroyd gives an excellent view of Ekholm and the positive influence he had on Bouchard and Darnell Nurse.

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Is Ekholm really as good as Pronger?

That’s a tough question to answer right away because Pronger is a defender in the NHL Hall of Fame with a Stanley Cup title under his belt. However, Ekholm is quite possibly the best defenseman the Oilers have had since Pronger. He may not be able to pull off the offensive numbers that Pronger made during his time with the Oilers, but Ekholm has a similar presence and demeanor on the ice that inspires respect.

Chris Pronger Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers’ Chris Pronger #44 runs the puck out of the corner against the Vancouver Canucks during their NHL game at General Motors Place December 17, 2005 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

And it seems Ekholm’s influence has rubbed off on his teammates. You may not be able to see things like leadership, calmness and character on the stat sheet, but you can feel it when you see great players on the ice. Connor McDavid and Leon Draistail have it, and Ekholm has it, as does Pronger.

Ekholm and his family are happy to be in Edmonton

In a March 17 interview on 630 CHED’s Oilers Now, guest host Brenden Escott asked Elliotte Friedman of Canada at Hockey Night Canada for his thoughts on Ekholm. Friedman mentioned that “Ekholm was a very popular teammate in Nashville. And he has an excellent reputation for what kind of person he is. The other thing that helps is that he has a term (in his contract) and his family came with him.

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When Friedman interviewed Ekholm in Toronto recently, he mentioned how Ekholm really got out of the park with Edmonton fans by telling everyone how happy his wife is that he’s going to Edmonton for the snow and all. Friedman added, “It’s very clear that he (Ekholm) has embraced that (move) on and off the ice. He sees how lucky the fans are to have him and how lucky the Oilers are to have him – all these guys know how good he is. He’s a really good skater. He’s a really smart player. (Edmonton) could have gone in many different directions and (Ekholm) looks like a home run early on.”

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Ekholm: Just what the doctor ordered for the Oilers

Fans and pundits alike lamented the loss of Adam Larsson to the Seattle Kraken in July 2021. And while the team has picked up some capable defenders like Duncan Keith and Brett Kulak over the past two seasons, there really is no comparison to what Ekholm feels about Team. He adds the guts and consistency the Oilers lost with Larsson and a confident veteran presence that gives players and fans reason to believe. In his eight games with the Oilers, there have only been two in which the team reverted to old bad habits — the 7-5 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on March 4 and the 7-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 11 . March. Otherwise, every game the Oilers have played with Ekholm, there’s a feeling the team can actually close the hatches and hold a third-third lead.

See Also: Oilers’ Ekholm Acquisition Has Immediate Impact and Long-Term Benefits

Ekholm could be the missing link the Oilers needed to climb the hump and reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 2023. It’s definitely a feel-good story for Oilers general manager Ken Holland, head coach Jay Woodcroft and the 2022-23 Oilers. Can he help them get to the finals like Pronger did in 2006? I wouldn’t bet against him.

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