PORTLAND – Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson became the first member of the Portland Pirates to be called up by the parent Phoenix Coyotes following the end of the NHL lockout.
Ekman-Larsson, who flew back to Arizona Monday afternoon, is the first of as many as four who could get a call from the Coyotes before the week is out.
“Of course, I’m going to miss the guys here,” said Ekman-Larsson, the Coyotes’ first pick in the 2009 NHL draft. “It’s a great group of guys and a great team here, but I’m excited to go back to Phoenix and start the season up there.”
The 113-day labor dispute ended Sunday when representatives of NHL reached tentative agreement with representatives of National Hockey League Players Association on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement.
The new agreement, which replaces an eight-year pact that expired Sept. 15, still must be ratified by the 30 team owners and approximately 750 players before the shortened season can begin. The players are scheduled to vote Wednesday on the new CBA.
Portland Pirates Coach Ray Edwards said he wasn’t surprised Ekman-Larsson was the first player called up.
“He’s still working through a few injury issues,” Edwards said. “You know, he’s got to get settled and get in his place, and just get ready.”
Ekman-Larsson missed the last five games after suffering a lower-body injury while blocking a shot during a Dec. 22 game against the Manchester Monarchs. Earlier, he missed six games after injuring his left hand Oct. 27 in a game against the Binghamton Senators.
“It feels pretty good now,” Ekman-Larsson said. “I’ve been able to practice a couple of times, so I’m ready to go”
In 20 games with the Pirates, Ekman-Larsson had seven goals, 14 assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-5, tops among Portland defensemen.
“He’s been great for our young players,” Edwards said. “He’s a young player himself, but he’s really been good for our defense and just a complete professional while he’s been here. He’s just a dynamic player to watch and a pleasure to coach.”
Ekman-Larsson, who spent the previous 11/2 seasons in the NHL with the Coyotes, turned 21 last July.
“When he came down here, part of what we wanted to do was to sort to help develop his leadership skills,” Edwards said. “He’s the future of the Coyotes, and I’m excited to see him go up there and play.”
Edwards was unsure when he might lose other players.
“It looks like (training) camps will open up at some point either this weekend or early next week,” he said. “My guess, whether it’s one or two or three (players) at some point on the weekend we’ll probably find out who they are.”
With the addition of Ekman-Larsson, the Coyotes have 21 players, two under the NHL maximum. Phoenix also will start the season without veteran left wing Raffi Torres, who has eight games remaining on a 21-game suspension he received after hitting Chicago Blackhawks Marian Hossa in the head during a Stanley Cup playoff game last spring.
“There’s going to be a little training camp, so everyone has got to earn their spots, I suppose,” said center Alexandre Bolduc, who has 16 goals and 14 assists to lead the Pirates in scoring. “This is a new situation for everyone. I’ve never been in a shortened season like this, so I think it’s a learning curve for everyone. We’ll see what happens.”
“It’s exciting that the lockout is over,” said Andy Miele, a second-year pro who has six goals and two assists in his last nine games. “Hopefully, I’ll get a shot. There’s a lot of guys here really deserving of it, and hopefully I’ll be one of those guys who will be chosen to go up.”
“Whatever happens happens,” said defenseman Michael Stone, who has a goal and five assists in his last six games. “I’m going to continue to work hard and see where it takes me.”
Winners of 10 of their last 12 games, the Pirates lead the Atlantic Division with a 20-12-1-1 record.
NOTES: Rookie goalie Mark Visentin was named AHL Player of the Week after stopping 87 of 89 shots to lead the Pirates to 2-1 wins against the Providence Bruins and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. … Former Pirate Brett MacLean, who had to retire from hockey earlier this season because of a heart condition, starts classes Wednesday at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: