Last Saturday, Jacob Larsson
stood in the corner of a cramped and stinky locker room, sweat dripping from his blonde hair, and assuredly proclaimed the past few days, “The best week of my life.”
And for good reason. The 18-year-old Swedish defenseman was selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the NHL draft (29th overall) just eight days prior, and the next thing he knew, he was in sunny Southern California for the first time in his life.
“This is my first time here, and it’s awesome,” smiled Larsson, just having played his a scrimmage with two dozen other Ducks prospects as part of the annual Dervelopment Camp at The Rinks – Anaheim Ice. “It’s great weather, great city. I love it.”
Larsson was just hours away from attending a Dodgers-Mets games with the other Ducks up-and-comers (“my second baseball game ever”) and the day before they had all attended a cooking class together. “That was really fun. My table made sandwiches,” he said.
Larsson was out of his element with an apron on, but he was able to do what he does best in the scrimmage in front of a packed house of around 1,000 Ducks fans at Anaheim Ice. “It felt good,” he said. “I was a little bit nervous at the start, but as the game went on I felt better. It was fun.”
|“This is my first time here, and it’s awesome. It’s great weather, great city. I love it.” |
The 6-2, 191-pound Larsson was able to show off the two-way game that has made him a standout for Frolunda, about two hours away from his hometown in Ljungby, Sweden. Larsson spent most of last season with Frolunda’s junior team (which he helped to its league’s silver medal), but also played with its top team in the Swedish Hockey League as well as international play for his home country in the Under-18 World Junior Championship and the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
The Ducks had been high on him for some time, and when he was available when their spot came around at the Draft, they nabbed him. “We drafted him because of what we saw on the ice, but having said that, he’s like our other Swedish players,” said Ducks Director of Professional/Amateur Scouting Martin Madden. “He’s smart, self-aware, self-confident and driven. You can tell he’s a happy person who feels good about himself. It came through in the numerous interviews we had with him over the course of the spring.”
Larsson was in the stands with his family at BB&T Center in Florida when he heard Ducks boss Bob Murray speak his name into the microphone and said, “It was amazing. I was so nervous and to hear your name called, I can’t describe it. It was awesome.”
Larsson didn’t know a whole lot about the Ducks, since Swedes are only able to watch so much NHL in their home country because it usually comes on in the middle of the night. “I know they have many Swedes,” he says. “That’s about all I knew about them. But I’m really proud to be drafted by the Ducks.”
One of those Swedes, young defenseman Hampus Lindholm, sent a tweet at Larsson after he was drafted:
Larsson enjoyed the tweet, though he hasn't yet met Lindholm. He was able to meet Ducks assistant coach Scott Niedermayer and said he was humbled despite not having seen Niedermayer play much during his Hall-of-Fame career. “He’s a great defenseman, maybe the best in NHL history,” he said. “It was awesome to meet him.”
Larsson, who grew up idolizing Nicklas Lidstrom and models his game after another countryman, Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, will work with Niedermayer and others again at regular Ducks training camp in September. But that will most likely be the extent of Larsson’s time in Orange County for the time being.
He will spend most of his time in Sweden, where he still has two years left on his contract with Frolunda, developing his game and continuing to “try and get stronger on the ice. I’m working on it every day, so it’s getting better. My position game has improved a lot, but I need to work on that too. ”
Although Lindholm started playing full time with Anaheim as a teenager and has developed into one of the NHL’s top young d-men, the Ducks plan to be patient with Larsson.
“We’ve got some depth on defense, both in Anaheim and in San Diego,” Madden said. “We’ll let Jacob continue to grow as a player and as a person in Frolunda on the big team playing against men. It’s a good environment for him. We’ll take it year to year.”