Total Season Stats: 62 GP | 6 G | 12 A | 26 PTS
Contract Status: Pending UFA
The Buffalo Sabres have their fare share of roster problems. The third line centerspot should not be one of them. Because that spot in the lineup should be vacated by Johan Larsson.
The 27 year old Swedish center is closing in on 400 NHL games and is coming of his best season in the league regarding to points produced, but it’s not that column that should make him a vital part of the ever rebuilding Sabres team going forward.
After being used as a shutdown center by Phil Housley with 83,4 percent of his shifts starting in the defensive zone last year, Ralph Kreuger noticed that Larsson can do more than just be a pain in the ass defensively for the opposition. The defensive zone starts were cut down to 58,97 percent and Larsson ended up putting up his highest amount of points ever in the NHL, in a season were he only played 62 games.
A quick look at Larsson and his isolated impact shows just how good he was this shortened season. Look at all that blue in the defensive zone, and the good amount of red in the offensive zone.
Krueger paired Larsson together with Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo and the LOG line were hailed as perhaps the best line on the team at times, but there is no question that the line was lead by Larsson.
Looking at corsi he had the third best numbers of all forwards playing more than 100 minutes, only trailing Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, at 50.73 percent.
While Larsson may not have the offensive output to be a second line center, but there is reason to believe he can put up 25 points in a team that is solid. The most appealing part of the case of Johan Larsson is that he have numbers good enough to be a really good 3rd line center and an excellent 4thline center going forward.
We can compare his numbers to former Toronto Maple Leafs protagonist Nazem Kadri and current Leafs center Alexander Kerfoot.
Larsson is not the best at creating quality scoring chances, but the offensive output should rise if he´s surrounded with better offensive players than Girgensons and Okposo, but we can clearly see that he has better defensive numbers than both Kadri and Kerfoot – two guys considered good second and third line centers.
Jason Botterill would be wise to extend the contract for the Swede (and make Rasmus Asplund the 4th line center). At worst they’ll get a center that is really smart defensively and gives his best in every shift.
The question is if Larsson can get a bigger role in Buffalo or if he explores the market when free agency opens, whenever that may be.
Season Grade: B