Most Anaheim Ducks fans are well aware of the name Jacob Larsson at this point, but how well do we really know him? Despite some fans banding together to hate on him while others rush to his defense, no one truly knows just how successful he could still be.
Who really is Jacob Larsson? Well, the short answer is that Jacob Larsson is a prospect that was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks with what was possibly an unfair amount of hype. Selected relatively deep into the first round, he was expected to be another young player to roll off of the much-vaunted Anaheim defensive prospect production line.
Hyped to be part of the new generation of stay at home defencemen, Larsson was expected to be the foil for players such as Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour, Keaton Thompson or Marcus Pettersson, who were all drafted in the prior two seasons. He was supposed to be the type of skater who could transition from defense into offense with smooth skating or sharp passing as described by talent scouts.
“The amount of importance placed on swift and accurate puck movement from the blueline is no different than in previous eras. There is, however, a seismic shift in the way defensive defensemen are expected to contribute. One can no longer expect an everyday job simply because of the way they defend below the circles. The modern-day stay-at-home rearguard must grasp the idea that if he’s spending too much time “staying at home”, then he’s as big a part of the problem than anyone else playing alongside him. Swedish defenseman Jacob Larsson is part of the next generation of blueliners who understand this quite well. A gifted and patient puck distributor, Larsson has shown time and again that he has the brain and skills to limit the amount of time both he and his teammates spend chasing and covering opponents within the wrong side of the ice.” – The Draft Analyst
“Jacob Larsson is not flashy, but he has solid all-around skill. His wrist shot and slapshot are good, but not bombs. He is extremely smart though, and makes sure to get it on net, and keep it low for rebounds and tip-ins. He shows good poise with the puck on his stick and makes smart plays. Larsson’s vision and passing skill is excellent. He makes a great first pass out of his zone, and can make the long stretch pass if a forward is open. He has not really shown the passing skills in the offensive zone though, he’s decent back there, but his ability as a “power play quarterback” seems limited. Larsson isn’t one to lead the rush and go coast to coast very often, but he can join as a trailer and let go his accurate shot.” – Ben Kerr, Last Word on Sports
The Ugly Truth and Backlash
However, it should be mentioned that despite all the platitudes following his draft selection, Larsson did have his bugbears against quality competition. In one particular 8-3 drubbing for a WJC bronze medal in January 2016, Larsson looked lethargic, out of sorts, and was on the ice for 5 of the USA goals. While Larsson did end up with an even rating over the entire tournament, note that he was not used a great deal by his coaches during 5v5 hockey, and instead received most of his minutes on special teams.
Many fans ignored these warning signs and instead focused on the narrative that General Manager Bob Murray is a genius at drafting and a savant at smoking out quality NHL defensemen in the draft environment. Further compounding this was Larsson making the NHL team over Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour. Then Coach Randy Carlyle appreciated his steady play and chose to play Larsson for ~16 minutes a game for a short cup of coffee in his début season. Those games were enough to get the more easily excited fans really pumped up. Larsson fired off a few shots and managed to get them through traffic. The more discerning fan might have suggested they were mostly going wide, although suggesting that a prospect who was not known for scoring in junior, or even SHL hockey, might not be a scorer in the NHL is always going to be shot down in the name of positivity.
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Regardless, Larsson was slightly undercooked and was sent back to Frolunda in the SHL to further percolate. Putting up 4 points in 7 playoff games, he had the Anaheim faithful frothing up like a washing machine on spin cycle, and so the hype machine went overboard. However, Larsson underwent offseason knee surgery over that offseason and came into the regular season undercooked. Things were not looking too good.
Due to starting behind the proverbial eight-ball, and not being able to adequately prepare for the season, he picked up many injuries throughout the year. Although given his usage today by the same coach who took in that first AHL season, there may be something more to those injury occurrences. It would be mere speculation on my part to say that is the truth, however. From this point on Larsson by all accounts worked on his defensive game under AHL coach Dallas Eakins, and when an opportunity came with the parent club, he was called up. As the season went on, his play appeared to get stronger and stronger. Particularly when paired with Josh Manson, for as short a time as that was.
This season, however, has seen Larsson come into the team on a nearly full-time basis. It has also seen the fan base that was once so vocally behind him turn on him quicker than a cut snake. So, the question is now this: at 22 years age and in his first full-time NHL season, who is Jacob Larsson?