In a season where defenseman Adam Larsson wants to prove to the hockey world just how valuable an asset he could be in his draft year, the big Swede is doing it the hard way.
For the second time this season, Larsson was sidelined by injury on Tuesday and Thursday during Skelleftea's semifinal round matchup with Lulea in the Elitserien playoffs. According to NHL European Scouting director Goran Stubb, Larsson left the second period of Tuesday's game with a shoulder injury. Projected to be drafted among the top three in June, Larsson was held out of practice for precautionary reasons on Wednesday and never dressed for Game 2 against Lulea on Thursday.
The winner will face either Farjestad or AIK for the Swedish Elite League championship beginning April 5.
Larsson represented Sweden at the 2010 and 2011 World Junior Championship, finishing as the team's highest scoring defender at the tournament this past season with 1 goal and 4 points. He produced 7 assists, 9 points and 41 penalty minutes in 37 regular-season games this season.
A groin injury kept the 6-foot-3, 200-pound blue liner sidelined much of the regular season. He did play in the semifinals and bronze-medal game at the WJC, but supposedly pushed it a little too much. It probably didn't help that he was on the receiving end of a booming check by Team Canada and Columbus Blue Jackets draftee Ryan Johanson in the tournament semifinal.
But Larsson has rebounded nicely and, prior to suffering his shoulder injury on Tuesday, was playing his best hockey of late. It'll be interesting to see how he responds when he does return to the lineup.
"He's a big, complete package with a great future in hockey," Stubb told NHL.com. "It's not easy for a player with his talent to improve every year. He's been on his own high level already for three years. Perhaps there's too many "experts" expecting too much from him ... forgetting that he is only 18."
Two of Larsson's teammates on this year's Swedish National Junior Team praised their impressive young defenseman when asked for comparisons to Tampa Bay Lightning defender Victor Hedman.
"I think Adam is better than Hedman, but that's my opinion," said Larsson's WJC defensive partner and Sweden's alternate captain, Fredrik Styrman."He's more stick handling and can move the puck quick. That's the big thing, and he can hit too. He's a strong guy and he's big. I think he has a great future (in North America)."
Goalie Robin Lehner, who was drafted in the second round by the Ottawa Senators in 2009, feels very confident with Larsson patrolling his end.
"Hedman was big, of course, and strong and Adam is smaller but he makes up for that with smartness," Lehner told NHL.com. "He's really smart with the puck and tough. He won't back down from anything and even fought a 30-year-old in Swedish league. He just has this glow in his eyes … you know he's going to be a great player."
Former NHL GM Craig Button, who works as a hockey analyst for 'NHL On The Fly' and the NHL Network, has been impressed with Larsson's determination and grit. He has him ranked No. 3 on his draft board behind only Ryan-Nugent Hopkins of Red Deer (WHL) and Gabriel Landeskog of Kitchener (OHL).
"I like him for the completeness of his game," Button said. "He's a guy that can play defensively. He's got the size (6-3, 200) and poise defensively, but offensively, he knows how to create chances. He's got a great shot, he can pass the puck and jump into the attack. He can make good decisions and, for an 18-year-old defenseman, sometimes you're looking for that player who has to make better decisions. I really like the way he gets himself into position defensively and offensively, and he can control the game. Those types of players, who can play a lot of minutes, are hard to find."