The new hockey season has just begun and the San Diego Gulls will be back in action on home ice this Friday night.
A new player to watch for is defenseman Jacob Larsson, the 27th overall pick in the 2015 draft, who was assigned to San Diego by the Anaheim Ducks prior to the start of the season.
Larsson has played 96 games for Frolunda HC in the Swedish Hockey League. With Sweden being a hotbed for hockey talent, the SHL is one of the top leagues in the world and is comparable to the AHL. While the AHL is a developmental league featuring many young players that are close to cracking into the NHL, the SHL features many veterans in the prime of their career.
So even though he is just 20 years old, Larsson is used to playing against players much older than he is, and will already be one of the more seasoned players on the Gulls roster.
Given the quality of play in the SHL, Larsson was sent back to Frolunda in 2016 after a short stint in the States, playing four games for Anaheim and four for San Diego.
This year, he was considered to be a strong candidate to make the NHL roster, but a mediocre training camp, perhaps impacted by swelling in his knee that is recovering from an April MCL surgery, resulted in the young Swede being sent to San Diego. Given his experience in the SHL and the fact that he was a serious candidate to make the team out of training camp, there’s a good chance it won’t be long until he’s back in a Ducks uniform. In fact, the plan a year ago was for Larsson to compete for a spot on the Ducks roster or be returned to Sweden for another year before returning to Anaheim.
That said, hockey in North America is a bit different from in Europe. Smaller ice sheets over here are more conducive to a physical play style while the larger playing surface Larsson is used to leads to a less physical and more technical game. So Larsson can use his time in the AHL to adjust.
Whether his stint in San Diego is short or long, Larsson will fill a role familiar to Gulls fans. The Ducks love to draft puck-moving defenders, and while the playmaking ability of Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour will be missed in San Diego, Larsson will fill that void. More of a two-way contributor in the mold of Theodore, his scouting report mentions his “outstanding skating ability”, strong passing, and ability to read the game well. In a wild 7-6 season opening win in Tucson last week, that passing ability showed up in the form of an assist. His +2 rating in such a high-scoring game also speaks to his ability to contribute on the defensive side of the ice. No other defender in the game for either team was over a +1.
San Diego hockey fans may not be able to watch familiar faces Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour make plays from the blue line anymore, but in Larsson, there is a new kid in town. If you want to watch him in person, though, the sooner you make it out to Valley View Casino Center, the better. He may not be here long.