The Vancouver Canucks made a rather intriguing trade today, reaching all the way across the ocean to acquire defenceman Philip Larsen. Heading the other way is a conditional fourth or fifth-round draft pick, dependent on the results of this risk/reward-driven experiment.
Larsen was originally drafted by the Dallas Stars with the 149th pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. At the time, Larsen was a young defenceman who was yet to pick up a point at a level higher than Sweden’s second tier, the Allsvenskan. But bit by bit, he clawed away and got a cup off coffee in after the end of the end of his Draft+2 season in 2009/10.
Eventually, the found his way to more serious NHL time, playing 107 games between 2011/12 and 2013/14. The final 30 of those games were played with the Oilers, who acquired him as a piece in the trade of longtime core forward Shawn Horcoff.
The Oilers moved on after the first season, feeling that the 24-year-old Larson wasn’t creative enough to outweigh his smaller stature and occasional defensive gaffe. The numbers matched up, too; even with present Canucks coach Willie Desjardins’ trying to find him a spot in the Stars organization, Larsen’s underlying numbers never hinted at more than a serviceable fifth or sixth defender. As such, he headed to the KHL, spending a year with Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk before signing with Finnish club Jokerit.
While his first KHL season was very solid, this year has been seen Larsen become one of the best defencemen in the world’s second best league. Larsen was tied for second among KHL defencemen this year with 11 goals and had the fifth-most points with 36 in 52 appearances. This is impressive enough as it is, but with Jokerit’s roster being much weaker than last, he found a way to turn himself into a focal point of the team.
Larsen averaged an impressive 9.42 shots on goal per 60 minutes (all situations) in 2015/16, well ahead of every other defenceman in the league. It’s safe to say, however, that Jokerit’s system leans towards shots coming in from the point; teammate Ville Lajunen is in second for the same statistic and Topi Jakola isn’t too far away in 9th (all three are in the top 20 in scoring).
While there’s certainly the chance that Larsen is one of those players that is better suited to the big ice (Cam Barker had 40 points in 55 games this year…), it’s likely that the Canucks will get a better rendition of him than the Oilers had a couple of years back. He’s a little older, a little wiser, and now has a love for shooting the puck. He’s also quite skilled at drawing penalties, and while you’ll never confuse him for a bruiser, he’s not completely scared of hitting or blocking shots. Most importantly, he was eager to come back to the league; under one condition.
According to Larsen’s agent the Oilers wanted him to come back but he wasn’t comfortable returning to the organization.
— Dustin Nielson (@nielsonTSN1260) February 25, 2016
This explains why the Oilers were so keen on selling him before giving him a chance, despite NHLe projections estimating that he would be their most effective defensive point producer (1.61 pts/60 all situations) since, well, himself two years ago. According to Bob McKenzie, Larsen is expected to officially sign with the Canucks on July 1st and play with the team next year. Odds are, he’ll be taking a steep paycut to get this second chance; Jokerit is far from a cheap team and they probably would have preferred to keep their star defenceman.
Whether or not he’ll turn out to be as good as he’s been across the pond remains to be seen. But at the end of the day, it’s a 5th round pick. A fourth, if it turns out that he’s for real. Given the stride’s he’s taken, why not take the chance?