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Graduated Prospect: Jacob Larsson
By Thomas Harrington
A first round pick from 2015, Jacob Larsson has taken a little while to arrive in the NHL. After playing four games for the Ducks in the 2016-2017 season, he spent the entirety of the 2017-2018 season in the AHL. He started that season recovering from a knee injury, and he wasn’t 100% most nights.
With his knee recovered, it was expected that Larsson would be in Anaheim for most of the season. However, he was cut during training camp and assigned to San Diego. He played in six games for the Gulls and collected a pair of assists. He was called up to Anaheim at the end of October and stayed with the Ducks until late January. He didn’t play much in his first game back in Anaheim, just under 12 minutes, but he only played less than 12 minutes in a game four times through January. That increase in playing time shows how much his play had improved. In his sixth game of the season, he recorded his first career assist against Calgary. At times, Larsson looked comfortable and confident playing against NHL competition; other times, he looked like a rookie struggling to keep up with the pace of the NHL. It was that inconsistency that caused him to return to the AHL.
Larsson stayed with the Gulls until early March. Overall, he played in 22 total AHL games and recorded five assists. He played on all three defensive pairs for the Gulls and saw time on both the powerplay and penalty kill.
Larsson was not one of Anaheim’s four call-ups after the deadline, but when Anaheim’s blueline ran into injury issues, he returned to the Ducks’ lineup. Once he returned to Anaheim, Larsson started playing a ton of hockey, eclipsing the 20 minute mark on six occasions. He had only played in more than 20 minutes five times before his final call-up of the season. Clearly, his time in San Diego helped Larsson find his game and he earned the confidence of Bob Murray quickly. This culminated with a career high of over 25 minutes in the final game of the season. Larsson also recorded his first career two assist game against Montreal. Overall, Larsson played in 49 NHL games and recorded five assists. His 49 games were second among Anaheim rookies, while his five assists were tied for fourth. Larsson averaged over 17 minutes of ice time per game, tops among Anaheim rookies, and good for sixth among Anaheim’s defensemen.
Larsson played his best hockey of the season for the Gulls in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Offensively, he finished with two goals and seven points, second to only Andy Welinski on the team, and was seventh in defensemen scoring in the AHL at the time the Gulls were eliminated. On the defensive side of things, he was paired with Jaycob Megna on the team’s top defensive pairing several times throughout the playoffs. The two formed what was arguably San Diego’s best defensive unit in the playoffs.
In terms of expectations, Larsson did pretty much exactly what I hoped for: he played most of the season in Anaheim and showed that he can be an NHL defender. I also expected him to stumble at some point and go to San Diego for a while. The only real disappointment is that he started the year in the AHL, but he quickly made his way to Anaheim and spent most of the season with them. However, given how he just got better as the season went along, and played some great hockey in the playoffs, I’m very happy with how he developed this past season.
Right now, three of Anaheim’s top four defenders are set: Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Josh Manson. The fourth slot is open, but I think that Brendan Guhle is the most likely to take that spot. However, that’s certainly not a guarantee, and even if he does, that still leaves room on Anaheim’s bottom pairing next season. Depending on what happens in free agency and at the draft, those positions could be filled. However, I think that Anaheim will leave at least one open for one of the many defenders coming up from San Diego, and I think that Larsson is one the favorites to grab it.
Larsson won’t be a top pairing defender, but he could become a solid third or fourth defenseman someday. He’s an excellent skater who can read a play well but isn’t overly physical. He doesn’t have a ton of offensive upside, but he will put up some points, and wouldn’t be out of place on a team’s second powerplay unit someday.
Larsson has one more year remaining on his entry-level contract and he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. Assuming he does grab a spot in Anaheim this coming season, expect him to be re-signed to a one-way deal. However, if he is still bouncing back and forth between Anaheim and San Diego next season, he could be signed to a two-way deal for a year, to give Anaheim flexibility in where Larsson plays the following season.
The next graduated prospect will be Troy Terry.
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June 12th, 2019