By Thomas Harrington
Anaheim’s first round pick from 2015, Jacob Larsson has spent most of the last two seasons in the SHL, developing into a solid, all around defenseman. He doesn’t have the offensive flash of some of Anaheim’s other young defenders but is currently Anaheim’s best defensive prospect.
Larsson had a fantastic training camp last year. It was initially expected that he’d go back to Sweden for one more year, but with Hampus Lindholm unsigned to start the season, there was an open spot in Anaheim for a young defenseman to grab. Most thought Shea Theodore or Brandon Montour would take it, but Larsson did instead. He played in four games with the Ducks before being assigned to San Diego. In those four games, he played between 16 and 17 minutes a night and did not record any points. While it’s a little disappointing that he wasn’t able to keep his spot in Anaheim beyond four games, the fact that he was able to beat out both Theodore and Montour to start the season for a spot in Anaheim is impressive. In the AHL, Larsson played in four games with the Gulls and recorded two assists before heading back to Sweden to finish the season. There was an agreement between Frolunda and Anaheim that if Larsson wasn’t going to get consistent time with the Ducks, he’d be loaned back to the SHL for one more year.
In Frolunda, Larsson played in 29 games and scored one goal and five points. Not great offensive numbers, but considering the fact that he didn’t start the season with them and the World Juniors interrupted his season, it’s not a huge surprise to see him not produce huge offensive numbers. Also, while he can produce offensively, his offensive ceiling isn’t as high as Theodore or Montour, but his defensive ceiling is likely higher. In the playoffs with Frolunda, Larsson saw an improvement in his offensive numbers as he scored one goal and three points in seven games. Unfortunately a knee injury kept him out of the rest of Frolunda’s postseason run.
At the World Juniors, Larsson played in all seven of Sweden’s games and recorded one assist. Sweden rolled through the preliminary round, going 4-0 and leading their group. Unfortunately, as has happened in recent years, Sweden failed to medal despite starting out so strong. They lost in the semi-finals to Canada and then lost the bronze medal to Russia. Despite Larsson failing to finish better than fourth in his two trips to the World Juniors, both were great experiences for him. Right now, some of the very best defensemen in the NHL are from Sweden: Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. If Larsson can develop into something similar to his countrymen, the Ducks will have an amazing young defender on their hands.
Last year, I said that I hoped Larsson would push for top pairing minutes on Frolunda and help Sweden achieve a top three finish at the World Juniors. While he wasn’t able to accomplish either of those things, he still had a successful season because of one important fact: his surprise NHL debut. Even though it was only for four games, the fact that the Ducks decided to give him a chance early on shows how highly they think of this young defenseman.
This coming season, Larsson will be playing in North America; the only question is whether it’s for Anaheim or San Diego. With Lindholm and Sami Vatanen likely missing the start of the season, there is an opening or two available in Anaheim. Even with the re-addition of Francios Beauchemin and the re-signing of Korbinian Holzer, Anaheim will likely want to bring up at least one of their defensive prospects for some NHL action early in the season. I think Larsson is the most likely to land that coveted spot. Right now, Anaheim’s defense consists of Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Brandon Montour, Kevin Bieksa, Beauchemin, Holzer, and possibly Steve Olesky. It’s a strong top four group, but there’s a clear drop off after that. I think Larsson is good enough to play above Olesky and fight for playing time with Holzer and Beauchemin. Other San Diego defensemen have a shot at a spot in Anaheim as well, but with Beauchemin back, I think it’s likely only one will be brought up, and I think it will be Larsson.
If Larsson is in Anaheim, I just want him to focus on the defensive aspects of his game and not making any mistakes. He’s a great skater and an excellent defender; if he can focus on those things, the points will eventually come. Once Lindholm and Vatanen return to health, he could see a return to the Gulls. If he’s in San Diego, he needs to be one of their top defenders on a nightly basis. I don’t think he’ll be in Anaheim for the entire year, but I think there’s a chance he spends most of this season with the Ducks. A strong training camp and start to the season will go a long way to making sure that happens.
Larsson’s three-year entry-level contract is set to begin this year and he’ll be a restricted free agent when it finishes up. Right now, it’s impossible to say how he develops, but hopefully, he’ll have shown that he’ll be a fixture on Anaheim’s defense for years to come and get a long-term contract. If he’s not there yet, I’d expect him to get a shorter bridge deal to prove that he deserves a longer contract when that is up.
The next and final prospect update will be on Sam Steel.
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September 18th, 2017