5 Former Coyotes Playing in the 2024 Stanley Cup Final - The ...

16 Jun 2024

The Stanley Cup Final is underway between the Florida Panthers and the Edmonton Oilers. The Panthers are back in the Final for the second year in a row, while the Oilers look to bring Canada its first Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadians won it all back in 1993. Both teams have players who spent their playing careers with the Arizona Coyotes. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and forward Nick Cousins represent Florida, while defenseman Troy Stecher, forward Sam Gagner, and goalie Calvin Pickard represent Edmonton. It is time to go down memory lane and review each player’s tenure in Arizona.

Stanley Cup finals 2024 - Figure 1
Photo The Hockey Writers

Ekman-Larsson, also known as OEL, was the Coyotes’ last captain. The Swedish-born defenseman was drafted by Arizona with the ninth overall pick in the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He played 11 seasons in the desert and was a part of the Coyotes 2011-12 Western Conference Final run. During his prime, he scored 40 to 50 points a season. In the 2014-15 NHL season, he led all defensemen in goals with 23. This historic goal marker tied Phil Housley’s record for most goals in a single season by a Coyotes/Jets defenseman. Eight out of the 23 times he lit the lamp were game-winning goals. Furthermore, he accomplished this at only 23 years old.

Another former Coyotes captain, Shane Doan, commented on OEL’s impact on the team in 2015. “I’ve been saying for a while and everyone has that he’s a special player, and I really don’t think there’s too many people in the league I’d trade him for,” Doan said.​ “He’s our best offensive player. He’s our best defensive player. He’s special, and it’s disappointing he doesn’t get the talk nationally that he deserves. What he’s doing this year, obviously, it speaks for itself” (from ‘Oliver Ekman-Larsson shines in Coyotes win over Sharks,’ AZCentral, April 4, 2015).

Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ekman-Larsson is Arizona’s all-time leading goal scorer among defensemen. His 109th goal out of his 128 goals in the desert surpassed defenseman Teppo Numminen’s record. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound defenseman’s resume includes playing in the 2015 and 2018 NHL All-Star Games. After a productive eight seasons with the Coyotes, they inked him to an eight-year contract worth $8.25 million annually. Unfortunately, he failed to meet the contract’s worth.

At first, the deal looked like it was promising; OEL was named the fourth captain in Coyotes history. He scored 44 points in 81 games in the 2018-19 season. However, his final two seasons in the desert saw a steady decline in his production. The following year in a 70-game-shortened regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the captain scored 30 points in 66 games. Despite the Coyotes having a winning record, he was a minus-3 in the plus/minus column. However, Arizona ended its eight-year playoff drought after defeating the Nashville Predators in the qualifying round of the NHL Playoffs. After that, they lost to the Colorado Avalanche in five games in the first round of the playoffs.

Stanley Cup finals 2024 - Figure 2
Photo The Hockey Writers

The 2020-21 NHL season was Ekman-Larsson’s last in the desert. While scoring 24 points in 46 games, he was a minus-17 and averaged three fewer minutes per game from the following season. The following offseason, he and forward Conor Garland were traded to the Vancouver Canucks. The former fan favorite and captain was a solid two-way defenseman who could play in the Coyotes’ top two defensive pairings.

Related: Canucks: Revisiting the Oliver Ekman-Larsson & Conor Garland Trade

OEL signed with the Panthers in the 2023 offseason, notched 32 points (highest point total over the past five seasons), and had a plus-10 rating. The Swede has been a reliable option for head coach Paul Maurice’s lineup. Ekman-Larsson’s resurgence has earned him ice time on Florida’s second power-play unit and averaged over 18 minutes per game. If the Panthers lift Lord Stanley, he deserves the title of Stanley Cup champion after his tenure in Arizona.

Nick Cousins

Cousins spent two years in the desert and was a gritty bottom-six forward. In his second season in Arizona (2018-19) he set career bests in games played (81) and assists (20). The Canadian also tied his career-best in points in a single season with 27. His most memorable game as a Coyote came the year prior on Jan. 22, 2018, against the New York Islanders. The 5-foot-11, 186-pound forward’s three-point performance carried Arizona’s 3-2 overtime win. He notched a goal and an assist in regulation and then scored the game-winning goal from a feed from Christian Fischer. In 152 games with the Coyotes, he scored 19 goals, 27 assists, and 46 points.

Cousins’ gritty play style sparked interest in playoff teams. He has played in the past five postseasons and is chasing his first Stanley Cup. Here are the teams he has played with in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: Philadelphia Flyers (2015-16), Vegas Golden Knights (2019-20), Nashville Predators (2020-21 and 2021-22), and the Panthers (2022-23 and 2023-24). After Florida ended the Boston Bruins’ record-breaking regular season in the 2023 Playoffs, they took down the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games in the second round. He scored the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 5 to send the Panthers to the Eastern Conference Final. This postseason he has been in and out of the lineup as Florida has a deep forward core.

The 30-year-old’s play style has received attention in the media after former NHL defenseman Kevin Bieksa labeled him “a rat”. Over the past several seasons Cousins has dealt some controversial hits. However, he disagrees with the title. When asked about his play style this is what he had to say.

Stanley Cup finals 2024 - Figure 3
Photo The Hockey Writers

“That’s the style that has gotten me where I am, and I don’t really plan on changing that either way,” Cousins said. “Some people like it. Some people don’t.”

After all, Cousins does fit Maurice’s aggressive forecheck and penalty kill. Furthermore, is it that bad to be labeled as “a rat” when the Panthers have a tradition of throwing fake rats out on the ice when they win?

Troy Stecher

Time to switch sides over to the Oilers and Stecher. He is the only undrafted player out of the five highlighted in this article. The North Dakota product started his NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks. He played there for four seasons and had his best offensive season in his rookie year; scoring three goals, 21 assists, and 24 points in 71 games. Eventually after stops with the Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings, the right-handed shot made his way to Arizona.

By this point, the 5-foot-10, 184-pound Canadian switched into a defensive role. In 108 games in Arizona, he recorded 12 points. Today, he is a reliable bottom-pair defenseman who plays a simple game and is usable in penalty-killing situations. The Coyotes have traded Stecher the past two seasons at the NHL Trade Deadline. Last season, he was traded along with forward Nick Ritchie to the Calgary Flames for forward Brett Richie and defenseman Connor Mackey. This season, he was packaged with a seventh-round pick to the Edmonton Oilers for a fourth-round pick. Unfortunately, he has been out of playoffs for the Oilers after having surgery on his ankle. The 30-year-old has appeared in only seven games in Edmonton this season.

Sam Gagner

The 17-year NHL veteran is looking for his first Stanley Cup and is back with the team that drafted him; the Oilers. Gagner, who was selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has played for seven teams in his 1,000-game-plus NHL career. During his prime, he averaged point totals in the 40s while dealing with injuries; ultimately limiting his playing time. Known for his shootout capabilities, his signature “The Gagner” move has been pulled off 26 times for goals. When he came to Arizona in 2015-16, he was tied for second in scoring with 41 points. He played in 81 games that season which he has done two other times in his career.

Playing in 28 games in Edmonton this season, Gagner has notched 10 points. The 34-year-old has yet to suit up for a game with the Oilers in the playoffs this season. He last dressed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2016-17 NHL season.

Calvin Pickard

The 6-foot-1, 206-pound goaltender has served as an NHL backup and American Hockey League (AHL) goalie for a majority of his career. On Nov. 29, 2018, the Coyotes claimed Pickard off of waivers from the Philadelphia Flyers. The Canadian-born puck-stopper appeared in six games for Arizona with a 3.61 goals-against average (GAA) and a .892 save percentage (SV%). His most memorable performance came on Feb. 5, 2019, versus the Predators. He stopped 42 out of 46 shots in Arizona’s 5-2 loss.

Pickard started 23 games in between the pipes for the Oilers this season. The backup put up a 20-17-1 record with a 2.45 GAA and .909 SV%. He made 27 saves on Jan. 25, 2024, against the Chicago Blackhawks to earn his first shutout at the NHL level in five seasons. The former second-round pick by the Avalanche in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft has played in three of the Oilers’ playoff games this year. He has a 1-1 record with a 2.21 GAA and .915 SV% in relief of Edmonton’s starting goalie Stuart Skinner.

As Coyotes fans may be let down by the fact that their franchise is relocating and becoming the Utah Hockey Club, at least they have some former players to cheer on in the Stanley Cup Final.

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