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Banking on the blueline: Preds sign Mattias Ekholm

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One thing’s for sure: the Predators are not a team short on defense. Throughout the league they are renowned and praised for their defensive handiwork, particularly that of Norris Trophy nominee Shea Weber and real American hero Ryan Suter. Milwaukee is crawling with skilled young d-men and today the Preds added Swedish prospect Mattias Ekholm to their fleet of blueliners by way of a three-year entry level contract. 

Although today might be the first time you have ever heard his name, Ekholm is far from a nobody from the Swedish Elite League. At 6’3”, 204 pounds (and having apparently gained 10 pounds since someone last updated the prospects page on nashvillepredators.com), he might just be the guy to fill a defensive void if one should open up. The Predators will undoubtedly push their salary cap to keep RFA Weber on July 1st, but who knows if the team will shell out the cash to keep UFA bruiser Shane O’Brien, whose post-season penalties caused a lot of grief and a lot of power play goals for Anaheim. In signing Ekholm, the Preds may have anticipated to fill a space in Milwaukee to bring up another defensemen with some North American hockey experience under his belt (Josi, please please please please please) for the 2011-2012 season.

Ekholm was drafted 102nd overall in the 2009 NHL Entry draft, the same draft the Preds selected Ryan Ellis 10th overall. With picks like Weber, Suter, Ellis, and Blum, the Preds know a thing or two about drafting defensemen. So don’t let the lateness of his pick fool you (need I remind you of Mr. Irrelevant, Sir Patric Hornqvist?). Ekholm was named the 2010-2011 Elitserien Rookie of the Year over the current number one European draft prospect, Adam Larsson, and Red Wings’ pride and joy and Brynas teammate, Calle Jarnkrok.

Ekholm and Jarnkrok were able to compete in the Elitserien playoffs their first year in the league. Although Brynas was ousted in the first round by Farjestads (who later went on to win the Swedish equivalent of the Stanley Cup), Ekholm was no stranger on the score sheet and tallied four points in five games, leading the team in defensive scoring. In the regular season he ranked fourth in defensive scoring with 33 points. That’s only six fewer points than Suter had this season… and Ekholm played 15 fewer games. He also ranked 11th in the league in plus/minus ranking and was tied for fourth in power play goals by defensemen with five. At just 20 years of age, the Borlange native has five seasons of professional hockey on his resume and has already represented Sweden in international play a handful of times. 

Who knows when or if Preds fans will get to see Ekholm in Nashville next season, but he’s certainly not a bad guy to have in our utility belt. And although the blueline in Milwaukee is getting a little crowded, surely this rookie of the year will be a welcome addition to the team.