On January 24th, the Canucks made a seemingly meaningless trade for Philip Larsen, it was meaningless in the sense that the Canucks only paid a 5th round pick to get him and none of us had ever heard of this guy.
As it turns out, Philip Larsen is not a nobody, he’s actually a somebody, a somebody who was 5th in KHL scoring among defensmen. Which is no joke. Most of Larsen’s production with Jokerit in the KHL came on the power play from the right side with his heavy wrist and slap shot, dare I say similar to Alex Ovechkin.
Now Philip actually has played in the NHL before and his 31 points in 125 games is certainly not as impressive as his 36 in 52 for Jokerit. But actually he still had an impact on the power play in his 125 NHL games with the Stars and Oilers, his team’s goal rate was better by 1.52 goals on the power play when Larsen was on it, was Larsen scoring the goals? Not necessarily, he may not have been even recording points, but his team’s power play overall was better with Larsen on it.
Now one could argue that if Larsen’s calling card is scoring on the power play then it doesn’t matter what kind of impact he had in the NHL if we wasn’t doing what he did best. But we have to consider that before Larsen played in the NHL, he had never played in the KHL before so we don’t have evidence of Larsen producing like he did this past season before he played in the NHL, it’s possible that Larsen’s game has evolved over time and that evolution has come to him being a half a point per game defensemen over two seasons in the KHL.
So Larsen was 5th in KHL scoring for defensemen, some of us would probably disregard that completely when we notice that former 3rd overall pick Cam Barker was 1st in this department. That being said Cam Barker’s points per game in the NHL of 0.309 is only slightly better than Larsen’s of 0.258, so it’s not completely irrational to expect Cam Barker to outscore Philip Larsen.
So what do we know about Philip Larsen up until now, we know he put up quite a few points in the KHL mostly on the power play, he was 5th in KHL defensemen scoring, 125 NHL games where he had decent power play contributions, not outstanding production at the NHL level. The Canucks signed him to a contract in the offseason so they likely expect him to play in the NHL this year, how does he factor into the Canucks?
Well if Larsen’s game truly has evolved and he can produce on the power play with his heavy right handed shot, he could fit very nicely with the Canucks, let me explain.
Many Canucks have questioned why Alex Edler never used his hard slapshot on the power play more often, we know that he has a bomb of a shot, why doesn’t he use it on the power play more often?
Well the problem is that he’s usually on the power play with the Sedins, who do their cycle on the right side of the boards, because of this whenever the Sedins would feed off to Edler from the cycle, Edler would be unable to one-time the puck, unless a miracle like this happened.
So for a defensemen on the point playing with the Sedins on the power play, he would have to be right handed, hence why Sami Salo and Yannick Weber (briefly) were very productive on the power play, they both had heavy right handed shots which they could step in to from the point when the Sedins fed them the puck.
Looking at Canucks roster currently, the only other right handed shots are Erik Gudbranson who has never proven himself as a prolific offensive defensemen, and Chris Tanev who’s shot is sometimes ok at best.
Now I know that I mentioned that Larsen was productive mainly from the “Ovechkin spot”, two things on that. In the NHL, most of Larsen’s Shots have come from an area where one could with a heavy right handed shot could feed off of passes from the right faceoff circle area. And also given what we know about Larsen’s production in the KHL and if he has changed is game from what he previously did in the NHL, that could also bode well on the Canucks power play, after all the “Ovechkin spot” is where Radim Vrbata scored most of his power play goals with the Canucks. It could work out either way with Larsen.
Now obviously if Larsen pops into the Canucks defense corps, someone has to come out. And to me the answer is obvious but perhaps controversial, Luca Sbisa.
Having a potential right handed power play threat on the Canucks back end is more desirable than having a physical defensemen who struggles to move the puck out his own zone.
And the power play is not the only thing that Larsen can provide value to. In the NHL season where Larsen played the most amount of games (2011-12 with the Stars, 55 games) the Stars generated more when they had Larsen on the ice:
|Measure||Stars Relative to with/without Larsen|
|Corsi for per 60||4.7|
|Fenwick for per 60||1.32|
|Shots for per 60||1.04|
|Goals for per 60||0.87|
Larsen wasn’t particularly being sheltered in his 55 games that he played, his zone starts were pretty even and he was averaging 13-15 minutes per game.
Meanwhile Luca Sbisa in his entire tenure in Vancouver through similar usage to what Larsen had in Dallas, has been a puck possession disaster:
|Measure||Canucks Relative to with/without Sbisa|
|Corsi For %||-3.39|
|Scoring Chances For %||-3.63|
|Shots For %||-3.43|
|Goals For %||-0.83|
Stats from Sbisa’s two seasons in Vancouver
Now beforehand I only presented Larsen’s shot/goal generation numbers, the reason why is because his shot/goal supression numbers are not great to abysmal. But ask yourself this question: Would you rather have a player who can help out the Canucks power play and drive play at even strength and is making just over 1 million against the cap for one year or have a player who has a negative impact on the team in every sense and his making just over 3.5 million against the cap for the next two years.