Anaheim Ducks: Keeping the Faith In Jacob Larsson

MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 06: Anaheim Ducks defenceman Jacob Larsson (32) track the play on his right during the Anaheim Ducks versus the Montreal Canadiens game on February 06, 2020, at Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 06: Anaheim Ducks defenceman Jacob Larsson (32) track the play on his right during the Anaheim Ducks versus the Montreal Canadiens game on February 06, 2020, at Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
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Anaheim Ducks
PHILADELPHIA, PA – DECEMBER 17: Jacob Larsson #32 of the Anaheim Ducks looks on from the bench against the Philadelphia Flyers on December 17, 2019 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHL via Getty Images) /

Finding the Answer to the Million Dollar Question

While the fans were probably not expecting a huge breakout season from Larsson this year, the narrative certainly went along the lines of him improving. Particularly given that his coach of the previous couple of years in Dallas Eakins was to become his coach once again. While he hadn’t shown much develop over those few years, there was little doubt among the faithful that this year would be the year coach would unlock the riddle.

During the preseason, it seemed like he really might. Amongst the Ducks defensemen, he ranked 3rd for time on ice, 2nd for assists and points, 2nd for shots on net, 5th for expected goals for, and 1st for rebounds created. Notably, for a defensively orientated defenseman, he also had the fewest giveaways per game out of that group.

The preseason does not require the same caliber of play as the regular season does, and only the most foolish fan would suggest that results garnered in a preseason game would map over in their entirety once the regular season commences. However, it is a time that fringe players and prospects can earn a chance. Larsson did exactly that.

Some of Larsson’s pre-season form has even carried over into the 2019-2020 season. Only Korbinian Holzer and Cam Fowler have fewer giveaways per game and only Fowler has fewer per minute of ice time. This makes him safe when he has the puck and may give the coach some assurance when he trots him onto the ice. Perhaps more than anything, it provides a building block for a future defensive-minded defenseman to work with.

However, Larsson is offensively limited and what little offense he showed has certainly dried up from the preseason. Currently, he sits on 0.13 points per game, which is the third-lowest total of any Ducks defensemen this year. Only Josh Manson and Holzer trail him. However, in that statistic, perhaps you can find the trend. The three lowest scoring defensemen this season are defensemen that would traditionally be considered “stay at home” defensemen. Even Manson has seemingly fallen away – although, in reality, it’s more likely that his 37 points during the 2017-2018 season were an aberration more than the norm. If that would be the case, he’s on pace for his usual ~15-18 points per season. Thus, given that Larsson was always billed as a defensive defenceman, it seems as though we should discard the idea that he will be a point producer from the blue line and focus on other aspects of his play.

The Defensive-Minded Defenseman

The problem that arises when judging Larsson is that defensive-minded defensemen take time to develop. It has always traditionally been the case, and there would be few that refute it. There are outliers of course. This season we see Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes defying logic and putting up points in buckets at a young age and with relative inexperience. However, I would suggest that these players are more akin to forwards than the traditional defenseman. They often lead the breakout, skating at high-speed out of the zone. They are shooting the puck with more frequency than players may have done in the past. They’re taking short shifts, which changes the energy systems (in the physiological sense) they use, to become closer to that of a forward. For interest’s sake, forwards are typically more anaerobic than defensemen, which typically have a greater reliance on the aerobic system – think short and fast, versus longer and slower. Your typical forward goes out and skates fast, hits big and takes big shots, then gets off the ice quickly. The defenseman is out there longer, as they typically trail the play, are not required to skate as fast or as hard. Physiologically speaking, anaerobic strength and power peaks at younger ages than aerobic power. This lends greater credibility to young forwards ‘peaking’ earlier and being greater at scoring goals in their youth as opposed to old age (in hockey terms).

However, Larsson isn’t that type of player. He’s a nice skater, but he’s not out there going all-in every shift. He’s got a nice shot, but it is not a nuclear threat clapper from the blue line. These are not knocks on the player, they’re just not where his skill set lies. Typically speaking, his strength lies in gap control and breaking up passing lanes with a clever stick. He’s a smooth skater and can make an initial outlet pass, but he’ll be trailing the play and not overly involved in the offense. He’s likely to be the player the coach trots out against the high-end players on the opposite team, and the player taking long shifts to make sure everyone else can change. Thus, due to the game he plays, and the physiological energy systems he’s likely to use, his peak years are likely to arrive later than his more offensive counterparts.