Don’t Forget About Johan Larsson

With all of the Buffalo Sabres new acquisitions and prospects ready to make the jump, there’s been an unmistakable buzz surrounding the sweeping changes. However, there seems to be one player who has somehow been past up, overlooked and forgotten about. Despite, having a strong finish to the 2014-15 season, Johan Larsson seems to be missing from just about everyone’s 2015-16 roster projections.

Turning The Corner

Johan Larsson
Sabres forward Johan Larsson skates past the Bruins’ Dougie Hamilton. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Larsson has certainly had his share of growing pains and maturity issues, but things seemed to finally click for the 23-year-old Swede at the end of last season when he was given a golden opportunity. He finished the stretch run playing on the top line along with Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson, scoring 14 points and obtaining an even plus-minus rating in 19 games. The latter being a remarkable achievement given the team’s dismal puck possession and Corsi numbers for most of the year.

Fast forward to the 2015 training camp and Larsson’s name is conspicuously absent from nearly every hockey pundit’s line projections. Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma began training camp with Larsson skating on a line with William Carrier and Nicholas Baptiste, two younger prospects who will undoubtedly begin the year in Rochester with the team’s AHL affiliate.

However, Larsson was given an opportunity in the Sabres opening preseason game, and again he made the best of it. On a line flanked by Marcus Foligno and Nicolas Deslauriers, Larsson led all forwards with 17:53 in ice time. The line teamed up for the Sabres first goal with Larsson tallying an assist and being the catalyst in generating the scoring chance.

“[Larsson] played an awful lot, took 19 draws for us in a lot of key situations and I thought we depended on him a lot,” said Bylsma. “Penalty kill, those faceoffs and then in-between those guys, I thought he did a good job.”

Where Does He Fit Now?

Johan Larsson could be an ideal linemate for Sam Reinhart (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

With a number of players battling for the last few roster spots, the question becomes, where does Larsson fit? One of Larsson’s strengths is his versatility, which should give him the upper hand on his competition. He can play the center or wing position, be trusted with defensive zone draws and play the penalty kill and power play.

An ideal position for Larsson would be moving up on a line with Brian Gionta and Sam Reinhart (currently Jamie McGinn is penciled in as the third forward on that line). He could dispel the pressure from Reinhart by splitting time at center with the 19 year old and taking defensive zone draws. Both Reinhart and Larsson would benefit from playing and learning alongside team captain Gionta.

Regardless of how the chips may fall, Larsson should be given a long look when it comes to making the Sabres opening day roster. His progress at the end of last season, early successes in this year’s training camp and upside (yes, he still has it!), makes him an ideal selection for the Sabres roster, if given proper consideration.