So, you're Philip Larsen. You've just finished what you might call your first full season in the NHL. Sure, it was a lockout shortened season and you missed some time due to injury, but dammit, once the league got going in January, you were with the big club all season and didn't spend any time in the AHL. That's an accomplishment for a young player, and I'm not being sarcastic here. Heading into next season, there's a pretty clear spot for you as a 3rd pairing guy in Big D behind Gonchar, Goligosky, Robidas, Daley and Dillon. You've got some open road ahead in terms of opportunity to establish yourself for a long NHL career. Then...you're traded for Shawn Horcoff.
"This is Great!" you say. "The Oilers are a young team, my age fits perfectly with their core and they need some help on their blueline. I just went from one good situation to another and everything is still sunny and bright." That's a great attitude.
Then, the very next day, they sign Andrew Ference. Then, your agent points out the team signed Russian UFA Anton Belov a while back and plays you clips of Oiler GM Craig MacTavish telling season ticket holders that he has high expectations that Oscar Klefbom will be in the NHL this season...
"Well, now I know I'm in for a battle heading into camp, but competition is what athletes love. I'm confident in my abilities and I think there's still an obvious place for me on the roster if I play well in camp." I admire your positivity. Way to go Phil!
Then...MacTavish signs Denis Grebeshkov.
Previous Rank: N/A
I don't mean to paint an overly pessimistic view of Philip Larsen's prospects as an Oiler for the upcoming season, but the team's actions this fall would appear to indicate that they aren't exactly guaranteeing him a roster spot for the 2013/14 season.
He's in for a fight if he wants to play for the Oilers this year. As it stands now, he'll certainly come in behind Ference, J. Schultz, Smid, Petry and N. Schultz and with both Belov and Grebeshkov coming in on one-year deals, you have to figure the team intends on seeing if they can play. Fortunately, it appears the team is likely to carry eight blueliners to open the season, which puts Larsen in a dog fight with the two Russians and Corey Potter for the 6, 7 and 8 spots on the roster, with one player headed for the waiver wire or to the AHL. That doesn't even consider the option of Oscar Klefbom or Taylor Fedun playing their way into contention as well.
From a purely mathematical perspective, the best thing Larsen has going for him is that his contract would carry a small cap hit at the NHL level ($100,000) if he is buried in OKC, while Corey Potter's would not. Not likely a key ingredient in any decisions, but it does work in his favour.
More importantly than his place on the roster, what kind of player is Philip Larsen? Derek got some great insight from Brandon Worley of Defending Big D here, but lets look a little further...
Through his two partial seasons in Dallas, (11/12 and 12/13) Larsen was used consistently against the lowest levels of competition, which is not unreasonable for a young player. In 2011/12, he was played around 16 minutes a night, mostly at even-strength and a little as a depth option on the PP. Very little time spent on the ice when the Stars were a man down. His zone starts were also fairly sheltered as he began a little more than half of his end-zone face-off shifts in the opposing zone. To his credit, he managed those minutes reasonably well. He was just on the positive side of breaking even in possession metrics with Dallas taking 50.6% of shot attempts with him on the ice. He also ended more shifts in the offensive zone than he started, which isn't always easy for a player who starts more than 50% of non-neutral zone shifts in the attacking zone.
For a rookie season, Larsen kept his head above water. Unfortunately that wasn't the case this past year. Larsen's 5v5 and PP minutes were both slightly down and he once again faced the weakest possible opposition of all of the Stars' regular Dmen. His ZS% was tougher this year (approx. 47%), but he did not manage the minutes effectively, with less than 46% of shot attempts made while he was on the ice being made by the Stars.
The bottom line here is that while they were on different teams and in different situations, Corey Potter's numbers this past year were better than Larsen's. While I mentioned before that Larsen was younger and the team is more financially invested in him this season, the reverse is also true...Potter is more experienced and less expensive. If Larsen can come to camp ready to battle, play as he showed capable of playing in 2011/12, and win himself a spot on the team, then good for him. However, if he doesn't outperform at least one of Potter, Belov or Grebeshkov in camp, his tenure as an Oiler may be over before it really begins.
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