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#23 - Philip Larsen

A Danishman in U-gra.

Time to get back up again.
Time to get back up again.
Derek Leung

The Oilers have made several changes to their defense this summer. With Nikita Nikitin and Mark Fayne coming in, Andrew Ference returning from injury, and Darnell Nurse pushing for a spot, it seems exceedingly likely that half (and possibly two thirds) of the group that Dallas Eakins dressed for every game last April will turn over. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Anton Belov, Mark Fraser, Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, Jeff Petry, and Justin Schultz wasn't exactly the toughest sledding for opposition forwards. Oh yeah. He also dressed Philip Larsen as a forward all month.

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Previous Rank: 18

If your natural position is defense but you spend the last month of the season as a forward, that's a pretty good sign that you're not likely to be in the organization's long term plans. Larsen, realizing this, didn't wait for the Oilers to decide on whether or not to make him a qualifying offer before jumping to the KHL at the end of May.

In my view, that's a pretty fortunate turn of events for the Oilers because it allows them to keep Larsen in the system (they could qualify him knowing that he couldn't take the deal) while he develops for a full season in the best league outside the NHL. Larsen has bounced back and forth from the NHL quite a bit these last few years trying to establish himself, and while that's not unusual, having a full season with lots of ice time in an excellent league will likely do Larsen a lot of good. He's only five games into the KHL season, but he has seen at least 21:56 in ice time in every game. He's playing on the top pairing, he's leading his team in shots on goal (17), he's involved, he's developing. Given that his deal in the KHL is for just one year, he could easily come back to North America if the right opportunity presented itself.

That opportunity could be Edmonton. Larsen absolutely had his deficiencies with the Oilers last year (physicality, marking his man away from the puck), but he also did some things really well (passing, skating, versatility). A lot of his puck-moving skills seem to be what the Oilers want more of from their defense, and they certainly gave him a real chance to show he was ready for prime time, playing him for eighteen minutes or more in a game fifteen times. The team was 6-9 in those games, which sounds terrible, but that .400 winning percentage is actually slightly better than their .343 winning percentage (if only we were talking about batting averages!) in the other sixty-three games. Larsen certainly wasn't the driving force establishing that difference, but this is a player that Dallas Eakins could at least imagine playing twenty minutes a game and doing well. If he has a stellar year in the KHL, I could definitely see Eakins giving him another look.

In the meantime, the Oilers get to bet on surer things in their lineup while still having room for Marincin and Klefbom (and maybe others) to get minutes. It's a good situation for all involved. With Larsen off to a good start in Russia, we may well see an improved version back next fall to push those players for a spot in the starting six.

Check out previous stories in the Top 25 Under 25 series in our StoryStream.