The list of NHLers born and trained in Denmark is pretty short, but that small up-and-coming hockey nation has been producing more and better players over the last few years and one of them will likely patrol the blueline for the Dallas Stars some day: Philip Larsen
Larsen, the Stars’ fifth-round selection (149th overall) in the 2008 Entry Draft, has played in Sweden the last two years and is looking to make the jump to North America as soon as this coming season.
Because the pro league in Denmark is still developing, Larsen opted to head to Sweden for better competition. After collecting two goals and 17 points in 53 games last year for Vastra Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League, a club coached by former Stars assistant coach (and player) Ulf Dahlen, the 19-year-old offensive-minded defenseman will arrive at Dallas training camp in September with the goal of earning a spot on the NHL roster.
How well Larsen performs at camp, and particularly during pre-season games, will determine if Stars management chooses to keep him here or have him return to Sweden to spend another year learning under Dahlen with Frolunda.
“I think our plan long-term is, he’s going to come to training camp and participate in some games and then we’ll decide,” said Les Jackson, the Stars’ Director of Scouting and Player Development. “Our plan long-term when we signed him was to give him some experience at training camp and then let him play another year with Frolunda in the Swedish League, then we’d bring him to North America.”
“I’m trying to get a spot here in Dallas, and if I don’t, I’ll probably go back to Europe,” confirmed Larsen, who was in town a couple of weeks ago at Frisco’s Dr Pepper Arena to participate in the Stars’ informal conditioning camp for a small gathering of prospects.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Larsen enjoyed a solid season playing against men in the Swedish Elite League, helping his team advance deep into the playoffs.
“I think it was pretty good,” Larsen said of his performance in 2008-09, which included two goals and three points in 11 post-season contests. “We had a good team, we made the Semi-finals and played a pretty good series there, too. Maybe with a little bit of luck, we could have gone to the Final and had a good series there, but it ended. Overall, I think it was a good season.”
He also enjoyed skating for Dahlen, who was in his first season as a head coach after leaving the Dallas staff in 2008, a scenario that allowed Stars management to keep a closer eye on the Esbjerg, Denmark native.
“We talked sometimes (about improvements necessary to make the NHL), but it’s general things like, ‘Work hard and compete every day, try to do your best,’” Larsen said of Dahlen. “He’s a really good coach. He’s a fun guy, good guy, he’s really professional and he uses a lot of things from over here and I think he did a really good job last year. I think he will continue to do a good job next year. I like him as a coach.”
“He’s made some real good strides,” Jackson said of Larsen’s performance in Sweden. “He participated in a lot of the offensive parts of the game and Frolunda matched up with his talent. He had an impact in that league, so I see that he’s making some real good progress. A year ago at this time, he was coming off a couple of groin injuries, but he’s healthy and he’s made some real good strides this year. Ulfie Dahlen and his group over there have done a real good job working with him.”
|Larsen with Frolunda |
Larsen also gained valuable experience representing his country in multiple international tournaments. At the second-tier World Junior Championships, where Denmark advanced to the gold medal game before falling to Austria, Larsen collected four assists in five contests.
He also skated for the senior national team at the World Championships in Switzerland April 24-May 10, where he faced NHL-level competition and did not look out of place. While Denmark ended up finishing 13th of 16 teams and avoided relegation by winning its final game over Austria, Larsen registered a +2 plus/minus rating in six games as he logged an impressive 25:08 of ice time per game, second on his team.
“We had a pretty good team this year at the World Championships and there’s guys coming over here (to play in the NHL) and every guy on the team is getting better and better,” Larsen said of Denmark’s blossoming hockey program. “The league is getting better in Denmark, it’s getting more professional and as long as they continue doing it that way and they want us to get better, we’re going to get better players over here. Hopefully, we can take a step even more in the near future. I hope so.”
With young players such as Mikkel Boedker of Phoenix, Jannik Hansen of Vancouver and the New York Islanders’ Frans Neilsen, among others, raising the level of Danish hockey, Larsen sees a bright future for his homeland.
“I’m really proud to be a part of that,” Larsen said. “Let’s say, five or six years ago, we made the ‘A’ pool and we’ve been staying there for five years now and we’re getting better and better every year, so hopefully, we can take a step more pretty soon.”
As for what aspects of his game he’d like to upgrade in order to become the next Danish player to reach the NHL, Larsen has his eye on the big picture.
“A little bit of everything,” he said. “To be better overall - offense, power play, defense, everything. You can be better at everything, I’m just trying to get better overall and see how far it can go.”