PORTLAND – The careers of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Mark Louis have followed very different arcs, but both players figure to play major roles for the Portland Pirates if the NHL lockout continues.
Ekman-Larsson, 21, is an established NHL defenseman who has spent the last 1½ seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes, and he wouldn’t be with the Pirates if not for the lockout. He was a spectator Sunday as Portland lost 4-3 in overtime to the Manchester Monarchs in an AHL preseason game at Portland Ice Arena.
Louis, meanwhile, is entering his first full season as a professional after four years playing for St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and he’s trying to establish himself as a mainstay in the Pirates’ lineup.
Ekman-Larsson, the Coyotes’ first-round pick in the 2009 NHL draft, won’t play until the regular season starts Saturday night in Glens Falls, N.Y., against the Adirondack Phantoms. He’s the only player on the Pirates’ roster who spent all of last season in the NHL.
“He’s in a situation like no other (player) that we have,” Portland Pirates Coach Ray Edwards said.
“We don’t want to risk any injury. It doesn’t make sense. The NHL could start playing next week, and we don’t want to lose him to an injury in (an AHL) preseason game.”
Louis, on the other hand, is getting plenty of minutes during preseason.
“Mark fills a role that we don’t have here,” Edwards said. “He’s a big strong, heavy presence.”
Louis, who signed as a free agent in February following the end of his final college season, made his presence felt early in Sunday’s game. He put in a shot from the top of the slot late in the first period to open the scoring.
“My game is nice and simple and playing hard,” the 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman said, “When (the shots) go in, they go in, and that’s good.”
In 23 games with the Pirates last season, Louis didn’t score a goal, but he had four assists and eight fights.
The Monarchs, the defending Atlantic Division champions, won Sunday’s game with the help of a fortunate bounce. With 1:01 left in overtime, rookie forward Brian O’Neill knocked the puck into the left side of the goal after a high shot caromed off the glass behind the net.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but I think what we know is how we have to play,” Edwards said. “You get away from it for a short time against a good team, and you pay for it, and that’s what happened (today).
The Pirates led 2-1 after two periods.
“This game today was exactly what we thought it would be,” Edwards said. “We had a 2-1 lead going into the third period, and we have to find a way to finish that game.”
NOTES: Edwards expects to reduce the roster to 24 players — 14 forwards, eight defenseman and two goalies — following today’s game against the Monarchs Monday at 3 p.m. in Salem, N.H. There are 26 players in training camp. Peter Mannino, who spent the final six weeks of last season with Portland, stopped 14 of 16 shots while playing the first two periods for the Monarchs. Scouts from the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks were at the game.
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: