The countdown of WingsNation’s top 25 Red Wings prospects rolls along, today taking a look at Swedish goalie Filip Larsson, who some have pegged as the future of the franchise between the pipes.
Filip Larsson is a 20 year-old goaltender (born August 17, 1998) who played this past season for the University of Denver Pioneers in NCAA Hockey and will play this fall for the Grand Rapids Griffins. Larsson was taken in the 6th round, #167 overall by the Red Wings in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft out of Stockholm, Sweden. Larsson stands a modest 6’2”, 181 lbs and catches with his left hand.
Larsson was drafted back in 2016 as that year’s developmental goalie. Not regarded as much at the time he was drafted, Larsson had spent his draft-eligible season in Sweden in the SuperElit, which is Sweden’s top junior league, playing in the Djurgardens organization, among the most successful teams in Swedish hockey. His numbers that season were a rather uninspiring 3.86 GAA and an .872 SV%, leaving him in the bottom five in both categories among SuperElit goalies with at least 10 starts. His WJC U18 stats were also subpar that season but the Red Wings liked his potential and bought in by taking a late round flyer.
It’s important to remember Larsson was playing at 17 years old at the time as a severe underager, with a mid-August birthday leaving him among the youngest players in the 2016 Draft Class. In his age 18 season, 2016-17 (D+1), he made a gigantic step forward, putting up a stellar 2.24 GAA and a .925 SV%, leaving him 6th in the league in both categories. Having never played professional hockey in Sweden, Larsson was eligible to play in the NCAA and he committed to play at the University of Denver, but first would take a detour to the USHL to get adjusted for North American hockey.
In his D+2 season, 2017-18, Larsson played for the Tri City Storm of the USHL and absolutely dominated. He posted a 1.65 GAA and a .941 SV%, which led the league in both categories and not just did he lead the league, but those were historic numbers. His GAA was the second lowest in league history and his save percentage was the lowest of the last 18 years, and it’s not like Larsson had great teammates: the Storm barely made the playoffs at a middling 29-27-2. However, it’s important to note that Larsson only started 30 of the 60 games that season, missing time due to injury, which has been the one downside of his development.
After torching the USHL, Larsson headed to Denver last fall in his D+3 season. Being a lead goalie on a historic program comes with high expectations and Larsson answered those and then some. He played in 22 out of 42 games as the starter, though again he missed time due to lingering scar tissue from the groin issue he had dealt with in the USHL, having surgery in September and he did not begin his season until Thanksgiving. But once he got rolling, Larsson was great, putting up a 1.95 GAA on the season and a .932 SV%. While backup Devin Cooley had nearly identical numbers, Larsson was clearly the #1 guy, facing tougher competition down the stretch and most notably, starting in the postseason. Speaking of which, Larsson was magnificent in the NCAA Tournament, posting back-to-back shutouts of Ohio St. and American International to send the Pioneers back to the Frozen Four. While Denver’s run came to an end at the hands of Cale Makar’s UMass, Larsson had left his mark on college hockey. Larsson was twice named NCHC Goalie of the Week, tabbed NCHC Goalie of the Month for December, selected for the NCHC All-Rookie Team, was a finalist for NCHC Goalie of the Year, was a co-recipient of the Pioneers’ Bill Masterton Award for Team MVP, and was named national goalie of the month for March and April. Whew that’s a lot of hardware.
Right after the season concluded, Larsson was officially signed by the Detroit Red Wings and got to watch the Griffins’ playoff series up close, getting a taste of his challenge to come in 2019-20.
As described by Dobber Prospects on this prospect page, Larsson is “a good blocking goalie who covers the net well, controls rebounds and has a calm demeanor” and they go on to note that he has drawn comparisons to Henrik Lundqvist (no big deal).
Here’s a highlight reel of Larsson’s 2-0 shutout over North Dakota in March, featuring a handful of decent saves from him:
There aren’t a lot more of videos out there of Larsson unfortunately. The good thing is that will change this year with him in GR.
The lottery ticket that the Red Wings took on Larsson three years ago is looking to be getting closer and closer to hitting the jackpot and producing an NHL-caliber netminder and someone who could be crowned the Goalie of the Future. Still there’s one more hurdle for Larsson to clear before he can make it to the NHL: the American Hockey League and Grand Rapids. With the Red Wings letting Harri Sateri head to Russia and the KHL, it is almost certain that the Griffins will enter the 2019-20 season with a goaltender tandem of Patrik Rybar and Filip Larsson, with Rybar the nominal starter to begin as Larsson eases in to professional hockey. So how long until Larsson reaches the NHL? Well that somewhat depends on how quickly he gets a hang of things in the AHL. Just last year, some assumed he’d spend two years at Denver, which seemed to be a consensus, until Larsson beat expectations with the Pioneers. That was the third straight year, each year since being drafted, that Larsson overperformed expectations and so it’s feasible that he could explode with the Griffins and push on the door of the NHL immediately.
On the other hand, as we saw with Filip Zadina last year, transitioning from amateur to professional hockey is not always the easiest, and Larsson needs to stay healthy to have the easiest transition, which again, has not been true of any season in his history. Perhaps the best comparable to a current NHL goalie I could find is Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets. Like Larsson, Hellebuyck was a late rounder (5th) who then played college hockey, posting great stats and being signed by his NHL team ahead of his age 21 season. Hellebuyck had a 2.58 GAA and a .921 SV% in his first season in the AHL, which to me would be a reasonable best case scenario for Larsson, and Hellebuyck went on to then start 20+ games in the NHL the following year. While that is the best case scenario, we have to be mindful of the chance that things don’t go quite as well for Larsson, and that’s okay.
So, as we enter this year, Larsson is the clear #1 goalie prospect in the Red Wings system, and I would be surprised if he is not in the top 10 of Corey Pronman’s list of the top goalie prospects in the NHL when he publishes his ranking in the fall. Larsson is getting noticed around the league and with him just turning 21 in a few months, his potential is sky high. With Jimmy Howard coming back on just a one year deal at the age of 35 and Jonathan Bernier having only two years left on his deal at the age of 31, the future of the Red Wings in net is wide, wide open. As a result, this is probably the best and worst case for his future trajectory:
Best case: strong season in Grand Rapids in 2019-20, is expected to be a co-starter in the NHL in 20-21
Worst case: struggles mightily in Grand Rapids in 2019-20, shows little improvement in 20-21
While I would expect somewhere a little in between, this is a guy who has beaten expectations before.