Mattias Ekholm hasn't missed more than two games in a season since 2013-14, when he was a rookie. There are exactly zero other Predators players- as well as very few NHL players in general- who can claim that kind of ironclad will over the course of multiple seasons.
It's been a quietly held belief among Preds' circles that Ekholm has evolved into one of the NHL's premier defensemen in the last few years. In 2018-19, Ekholm set a career record in assists (36) and points (44), simultaneously leading the team with a career-record +27 on-ice rating. This season, however, Ekholm has slipped to a -1 rating- his worst since his rookie season.
Fortunately, his point pace has remained steady; as of the season pause on Mar. 12, Ekholm is 11 points shy of the 44-point record he set last year. Even if the season is to resume in the future, it isn't likely that Ekholm would surpass that record (he has 0.49 points per game), but the Preds should still consider themselves lucky to be in the possession of one of the league's most cunning assets.
2019-20 is the third season of Ekholm's career wherein he's notched exactly eight goals. For a defenseman, that number is pretty average. Ekholm, however, provides a deeper offensive impact than what can be immediately observed from a scorecard. His career +71 rating demonstrates his ability to cause- be it directly or indirectly- scoring opportunities for his linemates. This season, Ekholm is also recording his highest individual on-ice shooting percentage (oiSH%), at a 10.7 percent success rate. This means that while Ekholm is on the ice, he and his teammates are experiencing the highest shot-to-goal conversion rate of Ekholm's career.
Ekholm also set a new career high with 154 shots on goal this season, even after playing 12 fewer games than he did in 2018-19. Among defensemen who have skated more than 100 minutes together, the Ekholm and Dante Fabbro pairing rank 13th leaguewide in total shots-for (366) and Fenwick-for (508). The tandem also ranks 12th in Corsi-for, with 658 total shots, blocks, and misses recorded between the two of them. Individually, however, Ekholm is recording the lowest CF% rating of his career. His 51.3 percent is the lowest it's been since the 2013-14 season.
Ekholm's -1 rating this season displays a dramatic drop from last season (+27), and unfortunately shows that the offense being created against him outweighs the offense he and his linemates are creating for themselves. On that same pairing with Fabbro, the duo is facing more high-danger chances-against (126) than they are creating high-danger chances-for (110). Ekholm is also recording the worst on-ice save percentage (oiSV%) he's had in his career, meaning that Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros are collectively saving only 87.8 percent of the shots they face while Ekholm is playing defense. In 2019-20, the Preds' goalies have allowed 66 total goals when Ekholm is on the ice- the highest of the D-man's career.
Though it doesn't quite compensate for the aforementioned stats, Ekholm has recorded a career-high in takeaways (51), as well as the fewest giveaways (50) of his career so far this season. Ekholm has certainly encountered uncharacteristic struggle in his defensive game this year, but given his track record, he will almost surely bounce back in 2020-21.
GENERAL EFFECTIVENESS AND TEAM INFLUENCE
When Roman Josi was named captain of the Preds in September of 2017, Ekholm joined Ryan Ellis, Ryan Johansen, and Filip Forsberg as Josi's alternate captains. Of the leadership group, Ekholm is the oldest by exactly eight days. David Poile drafted Ekholm 102nd overall in 2009- another case of Poile's inclination to draft and breed his own players within the Preds' system.
Ekholm, along with Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, helped Sweden take home the IIHF World Championship title in 2018. In the four games Sweden played in the tournament, Ekholm notched a goal and two assists as well as a +4 on-ice rating. Ekholm has represented his home country in the IIHF tournament every year since 2014 (with the exception of 2017, when the Preds were in the Stanley Cup Final), skating alongside Forsberg, Arvidsson, and Jarnkrok in at least one year apiece. Ekholm and Jarnkrok were also teammates on the Swedish Hockey League's Brynas IF Gavle squad for two seasons.
Ekholm spent just one season (2012-13) in Milwaukee before going pro, but spent his one minor league year with future Preds teammates Austin Watson and Craig Smith.