Amidst talks regarding how the Vancouver Canucks plan to bolster their defense core, they may have an important blueliner who has been playing overseas, and hasn’t exactly been the center of many of those conversations.
Enter Philip Larsen, who has spent the past two years in the KHL. His rights were acquired by the Canucks from the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 23rd for a conditional fifth round pick in 2017, which would turn into a fourth round pick if he hits certain performance thresholds with the team.
Larsen currently isn’t under contract in the NHL, but signing him, according to general manager Jim Benning in the Vancouver Sun following the trade, is in the Canucks cards to do this summer.
“He’s a right-shot guy who can run a power play… He’s a good skater and can transition the puck up ice. We’re going to sign him this summer and give him a chance to play on our team next season,” Benning said.
Larsen was brought in because the Canucks want a right handed d-man with a heavy shot who can be a power play specialist. This position was chanced to Yannick Weber, who failed to have an impact on the back-end this year. Vancouver is prepared to now offer this role to Larsen, and is hopeful that the former fifth round pick to the Dallas Stars in 2008 fits the mold.
Larsen’s Skillset Could Fill Void on Canucks Blueline
In a year where the Canucks scored a franchise-history-low 191 goals, the team’s defensemen collected a total of only 22 goals all season, and only six of those came on the powerplay. That’s a noticeable drop compared to 2014-15, when Vancouver’s blueliners tallied 34 total goals, 11 of which came on the powerplay.
Part of that drop is to do with Weber’s falling out in the team’s lineup, who was hoped to be a key offensive contributor from the back-end once again this past season. Instead, Weber will almost certainly face free agency this summer, opening the door for Larsen to possibly bring his similar elements.
The Danish defender’s game revolves around his abilities with the puck; he’s been noted to have excellent offensive zone instincts and good composure when making plays.
Larsen shows a great knack for creating quality scoring chances in the middle of the ice in the offensive zone, as seen throughout in the video below highlighting his 2015-16 campaign. From some of his goals in this past season, you can also see his blistering release from the point (at 0:20, 1:34 and 2:12, for example).
A defenseman with confidence shooting the puck and making plays offensively. Talk about aspects which would be a welcoming sight in Vancouver.
Larsen totaled 11 goals, 36 points and a plus-nine rating with Jokerit this year; his goal total tied him for second among all KHL defenders, and his point total meanwhile was good for fifth. He also put up three goals and an assist in four playoff games. His production in 2015-16 was a large improvement from his prior season in the league, when he posted six goals, 25 points and a minus-22 rating in 56 games.
For a player so highly-touted for his offensive game, Larsen has essentially put up average-at-best production, stats-wise, until this season when he seemingly found another gear. Prior to leaving for the KHL, he split a lot of time between the AHL and the pros, never playing in more than 55 NHL games in parts of four full seasons in North America. Perhaps taking a step back and spending his past two seasons in Europe has been exactly what Larsen needed for his development.
And there’s no reason to believe that he wouldn’t want a fresh start in the NHL with Vancouver. The Canucks are bound to offer him a one-way contract, possibly a second take of a “show me” deal that didn’t work out with their Swiss counterpart Weber in 2015-16. And with Weber, Dan Hamhuis and Matt Bartkowski set to be UFA’s on July 1st, and a strong possibility that at least Weber and Bartkowski aren’t re-signed, Larsen is bound to be given a chance as a third-pairing defenseman who racks up powerplay minutes.
What may be most important of all is Larsen’s connection to Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins, who was an associate coach in Dallas during the Danish defenseman’s tenure with the Stars.
“Strength-wise he wasn’t able to play the way we wanted, but I think the years may have helped him,” – Willie Desjardins on Philip Larsen.
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) February 25, 2016
An old coach in Willie-D who may think Larsen is a better-rounded player than years past, and a GM in Benning who can evaluate talent as good as anyone. And factor in, front and center, that Larsen may just be hitting his prime in terms of his abilities.
The Canucks may just end up with that right-shot, smart puck-moving powerplay specialist they’ve been longing for in Larsen.