Saturday, January 29, 2005


Nils Ekman: Bloomin' Late

While reading, I came across this near-throwaway tidbit that got my mind running laps:

Another note on the SEL, Sharks forward Nils Ekman [16G,23A,39GP] is tied for 3rd overall in scoring with Henrik Zetterberg and Peter Forsberg.

It seems like an innocent enough comment to make, but Nils Ekman really was the biggest 'out-of-nowhere' player of 2003-04 outside of Mikka Kiprusoff. Come into the season, Ekman, at age 27, had only 71 NHL games under his belt (with 24 points and a -23 rating) and had been out of the NHL since 2001.

If you had the (mis)fortune of drafting Nils Ekman in your pool/league last year (and I bet he went undrafted in most of them), you were rewarded with the following line: 82GP 22G-33A-55PTS +30 34PIM. Somehow, Ekman found some magical chemistry playing alongside Alex Korolyuk (another former castaway) and Alyn McCauley (another surprise with 47 points).

Looking back at the prediction guides, when he was still NY Rangers property, McKeens predicted 11GP 1-2-3 and Forecaster didn't even have an entry for the guy. After a productive season in the AHL (30-36-66 in 57GP), he was seemingly buried in a Rangers system that didn't give chances to players making under $2mil a year.

After an extremely disappointing playoff performance last spring, where Ekman had only 3 assists (no goals!) and a -2 rating in 16 games, I figured Ekman had all the makings of a one-year-fluke. (see Jan Hlavac, 2000-01 for the best example). After seeing that Ekman is doing so well in Sweden, I'm having a hard time pegging the guy's real NHL potential, looking ahead.

Bad Signs/Good Signs? Ice Time is always a good indicator of how valuable a player is to a coach, and also predicting future point value of a player (Players who play more, especially on the Power Play, have more chances to score, obviously)

Looking at Nils Ekman, he managed to finish as the Sharks 2nd best scorer despite the fact that he finished behind the following forwards in ATOI (Ekman's average was 14:54 a game)- Patrick Marleau, Vincent Damphousse, Alyn McCauley, Curtis Brown, Jonathan Cheechoo, Wayne Primeau, Marco Sturm and Alexander Korolyuk. So Ekman was 9th in ATOI and finished 2nd in scoring. With only 1:19 of Power Play time per game (6th among qualifying SJ forwards), Ekman was certainly very efficient with his production.

Is the glass half-empty or half-full? You might think that his ability to produce 55 points with such limited ice time would make him a hidden scoring star. If he could produce that well with 14:54 a game, maybe he could produce a point-per-game pace if his ATOI was 18-19minutes.

On the other hand, he could simply be the beneficiary of that magical 'chemistry' that Jan Hlavac-Petr Nedved-Radek Dvorak had together during the 2000-01 season. Linemates McCauley (ATOI 16:50 and 26 y.o.) and Korolyuk (14:55 and 27 y.o.) also had career years at the exact same time as Ekman.

It is very possible that all 3 simply made 'the leap' at the very same time and really showed the potential they had all along. It's also possible that their level of production wouldn't be sustainable in 'normal' circumstances, or if the unit was split up.

From a pool standpoint, I would be tempted to 'Sell High' on Ekman right now. Even with his Swedish league exploits, I can't really expect a 28 y.o. player who gets 3rd line ice time to continue to produce at such an excellent level (In today's NHL, 55 points ranked Ekman 48th in the NHL overall, deeming him a 1st line player).

Besides the fact that Ekman doesn't get much Power Play time at all (It's hard to produce good offensive numbers if you don't play the PP much), Ekman's early-career pedigree doesn't scream 'Scoring Star'.

Looking back...

Ekman was drafted in the 5th round by Calgary in 1994 (107th overall), but played a modestly good career in Finland before finally coming over to North America for the long haul in 1999-00 as a member of the Lightning organization. Ekman wasn't a scoring sensation back home, and certainly didn't appear more than a 3rd liner at best.

At the age of 23, Ekman had a pretty solid debut on our side of the pond. His 32 points in 37 games somehow earned him the IHL Rookie of the Year Award (wow, how easy was that?) while he had a 28-game sting with the Lightning (4 points and -8). In 2000-01, Ekman split the season between Detroit of the IHL (36 points in 33 games) and the NHL (20 points and -15 in 43 games).

He was then 25 and the Lightning just didn't see any room for him in their plans. While Ekman had done well in the NHL, and had a little nasty streak in him, his lack of size and his atrocious defensive play weren't cutting the mustard in the eyes of the Lightning. Thus, the Lightning traded Ekman to the Rangers for Tim "the Tool Man" Taylor.


Ekman spent the next two seasons in Sweden (31 points in 38 games) and Hartford (66 points in 57 games). Ekman was 26-27 y.o. during this time, and was putting up nice minor-league totals as he was hitting his prime. Combine this with last season's totals in the NHL, and you can easily wonder if perhaps Ekman is really more talented and capable than I'd give him credit for.

I don't mean to bash Ekman, as he's worked hard to get to this stage of his's just that I'd peg him for Vladimir Orszagh-like totals of around 35-40 points rather than the 45 points that the Sports Forecaster predicts.

...It's amazing how one flippin' sentence can send me rambling and frantically clicking websites for about half-an-hour...

Every time I mention Ekman, it is hard to not add "the Sharks forward with a permanent smile on his face".

His playoff perfomance was disappointing, but it was not from lack of effort. Alyn McCauley was injured early in the first round I think. And Korolyuk was eventually moved to help spark the top line for a bit.

So I will give him another shot with Ekman-McCauley and Korolyuk if there ever is another season. Korolyuk is one of my personal favorite players because he was bashed endlessly by the fans, and coach Darryl Sutter was not to fond of small European players.

But he played just as hard on defense as he did on offense, and he used his speed and stickhandling to make up for his lack of size. Now I do not feel so bitter over the Sharks drafting Marleau over Samsonov.
It's also hard to say how well a good SEL season will translate in the NHL. Look at Huselius, Horcoff and Weinhandl. Does their performance over there necessarily mean they will put up big numbers when the league starts up?
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