Ex-Shark didn't request trade, but he's not complaining either
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HALIFAX, Nova Scotia -- Nils Ekman was part of one of the NHL's most productive lines last season, when he worked alongside Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo in San Jose.
He also insists that -- even though he did not anticipate a trade, let alone request one -- he is thrilled to now be part of a team that finished with the second-worst record in the league last season.
Could be, of course, that he's simply trying to be politically correct, to not say anything that would alienate or anger his new teammates or bosses.
Then again, it just might be that Ekman really is pleased to be with the Penguins. And not just because he is the early choice to have Sidney Crosby as a linemate.
Ekman hardly comes across as a standard-issue kind of guy, at least off the ice. On it, he's pretty conventional -- blending speed, skill and a willingness to work to forge the kind of strong two-way game coaches adore -- but away from the rink, he hardly fits the stereotype of a hockey player.
Know many others whose favorite style of music is "old-time Swedish?" Who windsurf in their spare time? Who figure they'd earn a living as a fisherman if they weren't playing hockey?
Ekman, who was on a line with Crosby and right winger Colby Armstrong when the Penguins opened preseason play against Ottawa at the Halifax Metro Centre last night, clearly isn't a cookie-cutter personality, so it just might be that he's as enthused about his new situation as he appears.
"It's all about experiences," he said. "It's going to be so much fun to come to a new city, new systems, a new team."
He had plenty of experiences with the Sharks last season, and most of them were good. His center, Thornton, captured the NHL scoring championship with 125 points, while Cheechoo led the league with 56 goals.
"It was fun playing with those guys, just being part of their success," Ekman said.
His line was one of the reasons many observers touted the Sharks as a dark-horse threat to win the Stanley Cup, but San Jose didn't make it past Edmonton in the second round of the playoffs. That stripped much of the luster from what had been a fairly satisfying season.
"We played well," Ekman said. "We had chemistry, we had fun. We had some success, even though it felt like a big failure when we didn't go as far in the playoffs as we wanted to, as we thought we should."
Perhaps because of that playoff disappointment, San Jose dispatched Ekman and goalie prospect Patrick Ehelechner to the Penguins for a second-round draft choice on July 20.
Ekman said when the deal was finalized Sharks general manager Doug Wilson phoned and thanked him for his service, but offered no insight on why he was deemed expendable.
"I haven't thought that much about why," Ekman said. "And I haven't asked."
He won't have to look hard for an explanation of why the Penguins wanted him, though. He skates well, has pretty fair hands -- he had 21 goals in 2005-06 after getting 22 in the previous NHL season -- and is willing to handle the blue-collar chores that allow more gifted linemates to focus on manufacturing goals.
He's also able to work on either wing, although the Penguins seem intent on keeping him on the left side.
"I think one of my strengths is that I'm good at adjusting," Ekman said. "I'll take whatever role I get. I just want to be important [to the team]. I don't really care what it is. I'll find my role. I'll do my best to help the team."
The Penguins clearly are counting on it, considering Ekman was grafted onto their No. 1 line immediately. While he had an elite center, one of the league's best, in San Jose, Ekman is playing with a pretty fair one now, too.
But while Thornton and Crosby are exceptionally productive, their styles are radically different. Crosby is comfortable pushing the tempo, because he can overwhelm opponents with his skating; Thornton, who is bigger, is more inclined to rely on reach and vision.
The difference is significant, but Ekman seems certain he will be able to adapt.
"I just want to do my job well," he said. "I don't want to let the GM and the coach down after trading for me. I want to perform and do something well here. I want to be important."
And not just agreeable.Andrew Vaughan, Associated Press
Sidney Crosby is driven into the boards by Ottawa's Jamie Allison last night in the Penguins' preseason opener in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Senators won, 5-2.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published September 20, 2006 12:00 am