Zac Larraza: 2011 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile

When you think of Arizona, you usually don't think of hockey first.  OK, maybe the Phoenix Coyotes given  their recent appearances in the news for their ownership situation and being "vultured" relocated.  But prospects? Not so much.  Sure, Sean Couturier was born in Phoenix, but he didn't develop as a player there and he's been representing Canada as an international youth anyway.  He doesn't really count.

However, there will be at least someone from AZ selected in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.   This forward hails from Scottsdale, Arizona; last played as a youth locally with the Junior Coyotes Elite; spent the last two seasons with the United States National Developmental Team Program; and will go to Denver University this fall.  Today, he's the subject of a profile on this very site.  Let's learn a little bit more about left wing Zac Larraza.

Who Is Zac Larraza?

As noted prior to the jump, Larraza has come a long way to be here.  After a season with the Jr. Coyotes Elite, Larraza was tabbed to go play with the USNTDP team, which plays in the USHL.  As his past stats show at Eliteprospects, Larraza was not a point-scoring machine: 6 goals and 5 assists in 30 games in 2009-10 with the juniors; 8 goals and 9 assists in 50 games with the Under-17s; and 6 goals and 3 assists in an injury-shortened 2010-11 with the juniors.  Though, he carries some pretty big size,   Still, he stuck with the team and committed to Denver University in December 2009 per the LetsGoDU Hockey blog.  As DU post mentioned way back then, Larraza's not small as he's officially listed at 6'2" and 192 pounds per CSS.

While Larraza's point totals with the USNTDP team won't wow you, what should is his international experience.   He put up a shorthanded goal and four assists in representing America at the 2011 IIHF Under-18 World Championships; contributing to USA Hockey's third straight gold medal.   It's his second gold medal of his young career, as USA Under 17 team won their World Championships in 2010.

One last main thing to know: he's getting more and more attention as of late.  For example, CSS has him at 70 among North American skaters, a big jump from his rank of 98 in their midterm rankings.  Surely his U-18 WC tournament performance is a reason why he's shooting up some draft rankings. 

What Experts Have Said About Zac Larraza

While I can't tell you why CSS moved him up 28 spots in their ranking, I can tell you of why International Scouting Services have him rising up their own rankings.  They provide a monthly ranking of their top 10 prospects at Hockey's Future including a list of risers and fallers; and  Larraza was specifically mentioned as a riser in their May article at HF.

Zac Larraza, F, USA Under-18
Larraza is a smart, two-way forward that plays a prominent role in his teams success. While displaying the ability to produce offensively, he plays an overall responsible game. He isn't the flashiest or most dynamic player, but at the end of the day he just seems to get the job done. He has also improved many aspects of his game since the start of the season and he seems to be the type of player that is progressing, developing and moving in the right direction. He is showing a lot more quickness and speed and has always shown a real understanding of the game.

A part of me wants to say that this is as complete of an evaluation of Larraza's style as you're going to get. The numbers indicate he's not a high scoring player, but as this indicates, it may be more of a function of his actual role and skillset.

Interestingly, ISS didn't touch on the U-18 tournament.  Chris Peters at the United States of Hockey went further than just a "touch."  Peters evaluated each forward at the tournament and he had a lot of praise for Larraza.  Here's a snippet of the whole bit, which you can read at the link.

If there’s one player that just impressed the heck out of me at the World Under-18s, it was Larraza. He played the best I’ve ever seen him play. He was so good defensively, skating with Bardreau and Pietila for much of the tournament. Larraza used his body well throughout, and caused a ton of turnovers in both the defensive and neutral zones.

Clearly, Larraza did quite well at the tournament; as Peters emphasized his defensive role as well as the points he chipped in.  

A more thorough, and more skeptical take comes from Kirk Luedeke.  He's mentioned Larraza a few times at Bruins 2011 Draft Watch.  Rather than link and quote each one, I'll highlight Luedeke's takes throughout the last season.   First, from Luedeke's USHL US college, and US juniors watch list, Larraza made the "others of note" section with this blurb:

Zac Larraza LW U.S. NTDP Under-18 (USHL)-- Big, lanky kid came to Ann Arbor from Arizona with high expectations and hasn't quite met them yet. Described by one scout as "all arms and legs," he has a lot of physical maturing to do, but skates well and brings a good skill level to the table. If he can put it all together this year and produce, you could see him make a run up the draft boards.

After a season with the USNTDP, Luedeke commented on various prospects on the USA U-18 team prior to the U-18 WCs.  Here's what he had to say about Larraza:

Zac Larraza, F- As far as physical tools go, they don't come much better than this Arizonian. Good size? Check- 6-2, 195. Great skater? Check- rangy with quick burst and fluid stride and agility. Puck skills? Check- can make moves at speed and back defenses up. Where it gets dicey is in the intangibles department and thus far, he's not been able to put all of his impressive parts together. He's played better as the season progressed, and there is a lot of raw upside here, but some scouts just don't feel that he's ever going to get it. He's going to Denver University, so if he's going to develop into a legitimate NHL prospect, it will happen there or it won't happen anywhere. Worth a mid-round gamble because of what he brings to the table.

His most recent opinion comes just before the USA-Sweden gold medal final at the U-18 WCs.

Zac Larraza, F- Scored a nice shorthanded goal on a jailbreak after he blocked a Reece Scarlett shot at the point and the Canadian defenseman stumbled as he tried to change direction when Larraza corralled it and took off up the ice. He's been a solid, underrated presence for this U.S. team. Not sold on his upside, but he looks like he could be an effective role player in the NHL one day.

Ultimately, Luedeke's concerns about Larraza have been consistent: what is his actual ceiling?  He produced at the U-18 WCs to a degree; but it's still only 5 points in 6 games from a guy who put up 20 points across 54 games in two seasons with the USNTDP team.  That does not suggest a strong offensive upside, and that limits the overall upside. Even the praise coming from Peters and ISS focuses on his size, his intelligence, and his defensive work.  Again, this falls in line with his notion that he's a two-way forward and perhaps should be projected as such.

What Does Zac Larraza Have To Say for Himself?

Short of a video of Larraza available (If you find one that isn't his friends wishing him luck at the U-18 WCs, let me know and I'll add it), let's get a taste of what Larraza has to say for himself.  Dan Sallows did an interview with him, in which he lists his best attributes; compares his style of game to a NHL player; and why he chose Denver University.  Here are those interesting bits:

You are a big power forward, that can play at both ends of the ice, what do you see being your best attributes as a player?

Zac: I think I am a really good skater for my size, and also play a physical game and can bring energy to my team.

Is there an NHLer you mold your game after?

Zac: I wouldn’t say I mold my game after a player, but I think I play a similar game to a Jordan Stall or Taylor Pyatt. They are two big lengthy guys who play great defense to help them create offense.

...

You are committed to the University of Denver once your junior career is done, what made you choose the Pioneers program?

Zac: I chose Denver because of how much I like the coaching staff, and the tradition of winning there. Also, it is the closest school to my hometown, so that had a little bit to do with it.

Based on these short answers, I think Larraza is quite aware of what he is and what he's not. 

An Opinion of Sorts

Basically, Larraza's own words mesh real well with what others have seen of him.  He's got good size, he's a very good skater, he knows how to use that size, and his performances so far suggest he'll be a two-way player.  He won't be a scoring machine, there's little reason to think he has a significant offensive upside, and that while he's improved since the start of this season, it's not really clear whether he'll be a two-way player in the NHL.  While improvement's good.

Oddly enough, when thinking about it, I'm reminded of Matt Killian.  The two are very different prospects. Killian is a defenseman who got a taste of the USNTDP, played most of his hockey on a powerhouse prep school team in NJ, and saw his rankings fall from the midterms by CSS.  Larraza played two seasons with the USNTDP, who plays in a tougher-than-high-school league in the USHL; represented his country twice and stood out at the U-18 WCs; and has seen his draft stock go up.  Yet, the conclusion for both are similar: they're project picks and how they do at their respective colleges will truly show their upside as a player. It seems like patience will be required for both prospects.

Then there's that tournament.  The big question for a team to ask about Larraza will be whether the tournament was a sign of things to come, evidence that he can "put it all together;" or whether he just got hot offensively and so his tourney shouldn't overshadow what he did or did not do with the USNTDP during the last two seasons.  Personally, I want to abide by the 54 games he played in the USHL moreso than the 6 he did internationally if only for the difference in population size.  It's still a real question to ask though.  Larraza was invited to the NHL combine, perhaps he'll get that question from a team or two?

Now, would I mind it if the Devils drafted him?  By itself, why not?  The later picks are likely to be all project picks or players who are not projected to be more than a role player.  If it works out, then that's one less roster spot to fill and it might even bolster the team's depth.  What I am a little worried about is that since Larraza has been rising up in some scouts' opinions, that may mean a team or two may want to get him sooner rather than later.  Would I mind him at 99th overall? Not at all.  The third round at 75th overall (Devils have that pick as of now from the Langenbrunner trade) may be too much of a reach for someone with the concerns that he has as a prospect. 

All the same, I wish the best of luck to him at Denver University in the fall in the hopes of making one more step to become a NHL player. I also hope his selection at the draft will help give the young players in Arizona the drive to reach as high as possible as players.

Your Take

Now that you've read all of this on Zac Larraza, I want to know what you think of him as a prospect.  What do you make of his Under-18 World Championship performance - does it make you think better of him, or is it just a few good games in your opinion?  Would you mind if the Devils drafted him in the fourth round, should they be interested in him? Do you think he'll go earlier than 99th overall? More importantly, did you see Larraza play or know other sources online who have?  If so, then please share your views about him so we all can learn more about Larraza as a prospect.  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on Zac Larraza in the comments.  Thanks for reading.

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