Johan Larsson - 2010 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

This will be the last profile where I will focus on a particular player for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Don't worry, I'll provide an overview with links to all of the other profiles I've done as well as links to other profiles for potential 38th overall picks that could be made by the New Jersey Devils.  With this last profile, let's go for a reach.  Though, he's made quite the name for himself recently.

Johan Larsson - LW - 5'10" 200 lbs. - CSS Rank: 34 (Euro.) - Hometown:  Lau, Sweden (Source: NHL.com)
2009-10 Team: Brynas Jrs. - 40 GP - 15 G - 19 A - 34 Pts. - 80 PIM

There's next to nothing on his scouting profile at NHL.com. Central Scouting Services has ranked him 34th among all European skaters, which is quite low.  It's even worse when you see that his ranking fell from 22nd at midterm.  So why even bother with Larsson at all?  Namely, because of what he did at the World U-18 Tournament.  Follow along after the jump to see why Larsson may have some buzz in the second round of the draft.

Normally, when a player gets selected to represent his country in a tournament, it's usually a sign that the player has some talent and skills that's worth considering.  Larsson wasn't only named to the Swedish U-18 team for the World Championship, he was the captain of the tournament.  Larsson didn't just play on the Swedish team that won silver, he sparkled on the ice.  

All from the IIHF's stats site for the tournament: Larsson blew up at the U-18s for 6 goals and 8 assists in 5 games.  Sweden played 6, so even with Larsson sitting out, he still managed to finish second at the World U-18s in scoring.  Only Finland's Teemu Pulkkinen scored more goals (10) and had one more point than Larsson to take the scoring title.   Still, Larsson ended up being named as a tournament all-star by the media, as well as one of Sweden's top three players by the coaches. 

Simply put, Larsson was on fire in the April and now everyone wants to check it out.   Ross MacLean's article in The Hockey News back in mid-April summed up the reaction as good as anyone else. He even gave a solid profile on Larsson's game.  Here was what I thought was the big takeaway from the article:

 

Larsson has been to known to possess explosive offensive ability, but his true strength is how he can be a dominant two-way player. His offensive explosion will definitely catapult his draft ranking to new levels, as scouts love supposed defensive players who raise their game on the elite stage and demonstrate versatility. And versatility might just be Larsson's greatest attribute.

Basically, scouts saw a hard working player, possibly a checking line winger, in Larsson back with Byrnas.  Not bad, but not necessarily worthy of a high ranking.  However, given his performance at the World U-18s, some now think he's got some serious potential on offense.  True, it may be fool's gold in the sense that it's a short tournament and perhaps he just got hot.  On the other hand, Larsson achieved all of this production against the best U-18 hockey players in the world.  That shouldn't be taken too lightly.

Therefore, some reports on Larsson have a sense of caution with them.  The Scouting Report's take is a good example of that.  They ranked him 51st - 3rd in Sweden, incidentally - and has this summary about Larsson:

Larsson isn’t the most flashy player, but his supreme work ethic and willingness to compete are both attributes that make him a quality prospect. He was exceptional in the Under 18’s for Sweden, notching 14 points in only 5 games, and could see his stock climb even higher on draft day as he’s a player who has really made a name for himself recently.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a prospect who works hard.  It's just that alone isn't usually enough to command a team to take him high.  How a team's scouts thought about Larsson's point-explosion in the World U-18s will dictate how early he'll go.   That makes sense; but reading even something as short as this tells me to be a bit cautious of Larsson. That he may not develop his offensive game that much to make a difference.  But are there are other issues?

For all of these profiles, I've stuck to free sites for two reasons.  The first is so you call can see what I've read about him and make your own case. The second is that I'm too cheap to buy a scouting services opinion.  I like reading about prospects but not to the point where I want a subscription.  That said, Gare Joyce had this article for ESPN Insider in mid-April after the World U-18s summing up how a few prospects looked.  The first prospect he covered was Larsson, and it is free to see.  Do check it out, it's quite telling.

The knock on him has never been his work ethic, his defensive awareness or his hockey sense. And at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, he's not shy of contact, either. His skating, however, raised a few red flags, but Larsson has shown in this tournament that he has improved in that area, which in turn has given him more confidence on the ice.

In the past he's looked more like a creator than a finisher, but he's had seven goals through four opening-round games. That he's a late-July birthday -- he's one of the younger kids in the mix -- is a reason to think he's a late bloomer. He's played LW as well as C, and it's hard to say definitively where he projects down the line

This summary alone, I think, does a good job in stating why Larsson wasn't considered any higher earlier.  It's one thing to be versatile, but that only begs the question of what kind of player will Larsson become?  Will he still be able to be versatile, or only be used in a limited role?  Likewise, how can he turn out well if skating is a problem? Again, if it was the only issue, then that's one thing.  In conjunction with only lighting the world on fire offensively in a tournament, it only serves worse for the prospect.

At the same time, Joyce does highlight what to like about Larsson.  Apparently, he works his skates off, he can be a defensive player, he's quite young so he could still develop further, and while he's not big, he's definitely not small.   The short blurb on Larsson at Elite Prospects provides a few more reasons to like Larsson:

A strong two-way player with good hockey sense and on-ice-vision. Not overly flashy or technically skilled, but Larsson works hard, passes the puck well and is very valuable in all zones of the ice. A true team player with some nice offensive upside too.

It is quite complementary and if I didn't tell you that he was ranked low by CSS, then would this not be a good description for a potential second round pick?   Holly Gunning's post at Thrashers Prospect Annex translates a quote by an Atlanta scout on Larsson, who concludes that he is a "good player."

Fredrik Jax, Atlanta Thrashers scout, has seen Johan Larsson several times in Brynäs J20 and he is one of the scouts who were not surprised at the hysteria created by Larsson still in hockey circles.- It is strongly influenced by him to perform as he does. Johan takes with the team. He is a true team player and important in all parts of the game.Like most other scouts, Jax avoids answering the question whether Atlanta would be interested in Larsson .Precisely because it is so secret between the clubs.

Jax may have avoided the question, but I can't help but think he made a case internally for Atlanta to at least consider Larsson on their draft board.  But would he be around in the second round? And where?  Depends on who you ask.  I'm loathe to do this but the rankings for him all over the place.  I've noted CSS' ranking of Larsson among European skaters, The Scouting Report had him 55th, The Hockey Spy at the Hockey Writers has him at 40, and TSN has him at 45th; whilst noting CSS' rank, the Hockey News putting him at 101st, and International Scouting Services putting him at 29th (seriously). 

And with the possible exception of ISS, I'm can't help but think that anyone who ranked him at 40 or below would note that a team could easily take him higher if they fully believe that the World U-18s was a breakout performance instead of just an exceptional one for Larsson. 

It'll be definitely interesting to see if  and when Larsson can make the jump to the professional level with Byrnas' first team; as well as how his game looks among stiffer competition. Through Brynasbloggen, a Swedish blog about Byrnas (in Swedish, of course), I found a recent news article on Larsson.    The Google translation is rough, but as I understand it, but per Christer Aberg of GD, Larsson re-signed with Byrnas and was promised that he'll get a shot at the first team, it'll be up to Johan to earn a spot. Best of luck to him, regardless of who drafts him.

Overall, Johan Larsson is hot right now going into the draft, but is it enough to put him in the early part of the second round?  Surely, a defensively responsible, hard working winger who captained his country shouldn't be seen as a bad prospect.  Many of those traits are what we'd like to see in a prospect, I think.  But the questions about his offense and skating do give one pause.  Again, was the World U-18s an outlier or a sign of things to come in those areas? If the Devils think he can blossom, then it may do them well to trade down a few spots, pick up an extra late round pick, and then select him in the 40s.  While I get the hype for Larsson, I'm not sure if the Devils need another winger who may project to be a checking forward, so I doubt that may happen. 

I apologize for not being able to find a suitable video of Johan Larsson online.  If someone knows of one, please let me know and I'll add it later.  There wasn't as much info out there on Larsson as I'd have hoped, so this profile is a bit thin.  Any additional information on Larsson would be appreciated, especially from someone who has seen him play for Byrnas' junior team.  Please leave that in the comments or send me an e-mail. 

Now it's your turn to give an opinion.  Do you get the hype around Larsson, and hope the Devils draft him? Or are you not sold yet and think the Devils should pass him over?  What do you think of what has been said about Larsson by outside observers? Did I miss anything of importance?  As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments.

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