Mattias Ekholm continues to be one of the most incredible players on the Edmonton Oilers. He’s so well spoken, thinks the game at such a high level, and showed that in his recent interview with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek on the 32 Thoughts Podcast. Here’s a summary of the interview.
On fitting in with the Oilers and why it worked so well
It was my first time being traded, it was a whirlwind for sure, but if I learned anything about myself over the last six months is that I can fit in decently and I’m not too big of a personality. I don’t take up too much space in the room, and I think that’s a big part when you’re going into a different locker room. I think if you’re a really vocal guy it’s more of a challenge.
They have great leaders here. For me it felt like I was part of it from the start. I got a big role from the start, I got a young guy in [Evan] Bouchard next to me right away; I really enjoyed that. I’ve had [Alexandre] Carrier and [Dante] Fabbro and some of these younger kids coming up, but it was a bit different because he’s so offensive so it was up to me calm him down on the defensive side of things. I just think my role on the ice was so clear from day one; i think that helped a lot.
It was very emotional leaving Nashville after so many years. It wasn’t scary but it was different. I knew [Mattias] Janmark from before but I had only met him once before, nothing else. Otherwise it was 22 new guys. i feel like sometimes when you’re traded that’s a good thing, you have to get to know everyone. If you know a couple guys you just hang out with them, go for dinner with them, because it’s easy. I had a clean slate with everyone, which was great for me I think.Ekholm on getting traded to Edmonton and the seamless fit
How was it adapting your game to work for the Oilers?
In Nashville we had so many good defencemen all through the years. We had [Roman] Josi and [Ryan] Ellis and [Shea] Weber. They were so gifted offensively, all three of them, that it was like “you take the defensive role.” When I got to here there wasn’t really that number one star like Josi on the back end. We have Darnell [Nurse] and he does everything well, two way, but here I feel like I got a little more room too. Playing with Evan, we got a lot of starts in the offensive zone which I’m not used to. I thought there was also room to grow in that area too for me which i hadn’t felt so much in Nashville.Ekholm on the difference between Nashville and Edmonton
Who surprised you in the locker room?
I think I’ll go with a boring answer and say Evander Kane. I had never met him before and you hear all the things he’s been through off the ice; I think he’s a great guy. He’s a warm guy, he wants well, he really surprised me that way. I really enjoyed meeting him, having a dinner with him. I think he’s a better guy than he gets credit for.Ekholm on Kane
What stuck out about Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?
They’re super pros, both of them. They are on for every skate, they just want to be the leaders on this team and they are, but they’re so aware of what they need to do. I had a chat with Connor one day and we were talking about defence and he just said, “I hate when I get scored on. More than anything. It’s the worst thing in the world.” And watching him, that’s not what I thought because they’re so offensive. But they care so much and they understand.
There’s obviously a reason why they traded for me, they needed some defence and to play better in front of their own net, so my thought was obviously that, okay, these guys are all offense, but how much they care about the complete game struck me the most. I think they’re really good [defensively].Ekholm on learning about McDavid and Draisaitl
What did you learn about the loss to Vegas last year?
I think Vegas was a little bit more stubborn than we were. We were really good for the first 20 seconds getting into the zone because everyone was on their check, but when they had the puck for a little too long we got impatient and maybe cheated a little bit here and there, just wanted to break it up a little bit quicker. We’re not supposed to play 45 seconds in the d-zone. That’s a bit of a maturity part we have to learn, bear down a little in that area. It’s okay to play 45 seconds in the d-zone, a shift there every game a minute long, it’s going to happen. But to not cheat and let them get a two-on-one because we’re tired of defending, is one thing.Ekholm on learning from the loss to Vegas
You’re known as a shot suppression machine, how do you do it?
One thing earlier in my career we had Phil Housley as a defensive coach. We had Josi, Weber, Ellis, and Jones at some point. He was all about, when you go back, always have a good gap. Never let them come into the zone and get a good shot. When the puck goes to the net you never know where it’ll go. To stay at the blueline and not allow the shot is just a mindset I have. I have a pretty good reach out there too. If I see them wind up I can be there pretty quick and deflect it out or block it but it’s a tough question, its just the way I play the game.Ekholm on being a shot suppression machine
How is it going to feel to go back to Nashville this year?
I don’t know. It’s game three for us so I’m kinda happy about that, get it off the plate, but it’s going to be special . I was there for 10 plus years and I know everyone from the parking guard to the president to the owner, everybody. I don’t know how I’ll react. I’ve never been in that position before. Taking it as it comes, but I can’t get it too much because I need to win the game!Ekholm on returning to Nashville
What do you see in Bouchard?
I think the way to express who he is: he’s that teenager who’s about to move from his parents’ for the first time. I feel like sometimes he does things and I’m like wow, I didn’t even think about that, because he doesn’t know the risk yet. I didn’t think he actually made that many mistakes. He’s so fresh he’s just doing his thing and learning along the way and the upside he has offensively, I think this kid could go a long ways. I’ve played with Erik Karlsson on the national teams and I think he has about the same attributes at that time. The passing, the vision. Obviously it’s hard to put him on that pedestal, not going to put that much pressure on him, but as an offensive defenceman he has everything that it takes. Buckle up for him.Ekholm on Bouchard
On making the most of your opportunities and not taking it for granted
When we end up in that situation [losing in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final], what struck me the most is when we lost that final I was 26 at the time, just turned 27, and I thought, “we have a great team, we’re going to be here three more times in the next few years, that’s for sure.”
But then we were really good the next year but lost in Game 7 to Winnipeg in the second round, and it goes quick. Your window is not that long, three, four, maybe five years. For sure that’s the biggest thing here. I didn’t think we deserve to win against Vegas. I did think we had it pretty under control, I thought we had them right where we wanted them in Game 5 and we let it slip away. It goes quick. For us as a team to realize that we have to make the most of it.Ekholm on making the most of your window
Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire