PHOENIX - His teammates call him Harry Potter due to his striking resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe –in fact, he even dressed up as Potter for a team Halloween party.
But in the four years since he was the Phoenix Coyotes' first-round draft pick, 22-year-old Oliver Ekman-Larsson plays older and wiser than his age and appearance would suggest – and it has earned him the reputation as one of the NHL's best up-and-coming defenders.
"There was really no doubt that he was going to be special. From the minute you saw him play, you were kind of blown away by it," said Coyotes forward and team captain Shane Doan. "He's been at times our best offensive player, and at times our best defensive player.
"I don't know what else to say other than he's special – and not just as a player, but he's such a great kid. It's awful fun to have him on our side."
The No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, there was never a doubt that the Swedish-born Ekman-Larsson was destined to become a gifted athlete. His grandfather, Kenneth Ekman, played defense for Sweden's 1972 Olympic team, and his cousin, Amanda Illestedt, plays professional soccer.
So far this season, Ekman-Larsson's 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) lead the Coyotes – and his overtime goal at St. Louis on Tuesday gave the team its ninth win in 11 games.
The quiet, humble Ekman-Larsson said he's never been the most vocal guy on any of his teams. "I don't talk a lot, even in the dressing room. I try to lead with my game on the ice," he said. "That's what I try to do and that's what I have to do.
"I've always been like that, even when I was wearing an A (for Assistant captain) on my jersey back in Sweden my last year there. I don't know if I'm a leader in the locker room, but I want to be a leader on the ice."
And on the ice, Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett said Ekman-Larsson continues to mature.
"Defense is a tough position to play. He's obviously got very good skill, but maturity is in how you defend, how you read situations, how you handle yourself on and off the ice," he said.
"He's not a vocal leader, but his teammates know how hard he works and how much he cares about winning."
Ekman-Larsson said he was as happy as anyone when the Coyotes finally secured new owners earlier this year that are committed to seeing the team succeed in Arizona.
And like many of his teammates, Ekman-Larsson is confident that Glendale can become a hockey town, so long as the Coyotes continue to win. "Yeah, I believe that," he said. "If we keep winning, everybody wants to see a winning team, so that's what we have to do."
And to that end, Doan said a rare blue-line talent like the young, reserved Harry Potter lookalike is one of the Coyotes' best marketing tools, both now and going forward.
"His willingness to do whatever it takes to win and his competitiveness is so prevalent, and yet at the same time, he's so just unsung in the room," he said. "He's so quiet. No one would ever not think he's a leader because he goes out and does so many great things for us."
The Coyotes regular season remains underway through next spring.