Johan Larsson has been one of the Sabres' mainstays. ©2019, Janet Schultz

Sabres’ Johan Larsson impressing coach Ralph Krueger

BUFFALO – Five coaches and three general managers later, Sabres forward Johan Larsson is still here.

Earlier in training camp, there was speculation Larsson’s long tenure with the Sabres could be ending.

The Sabres have boosted their depth. They have Ralph Krueger, another new coach.

But it sure sounds like Larsson, a mainstay throughout all the losing and upheaval, has possibly secured a roster spot to start his seventh season.

“We see Johan as a stabilizing type of player that’s consistent within what we need to do, especially without the puck and on the puck,” Krueger said.

The Sabres still have 18 forwards in camp. That high number, of course, will be whittled down in the coming days.

Krueger, who wants to give everyone a clean slate, said earlier this week the Sabres could carry 14 forwards.

“We have a lot of competition, a lot of good guys,” Larsson said of the forward group. “I think we have four good lines.”

On Friday inside Harborcenter, Larsson, 27, centered the fifth or sixth line between Zemgus Girgensons and Curtis Lazar.

The 5-foot-11, 204-pound Larsson will likely play in this afternoon’s preseason finale in Pittsburgh. He missed about a week after suffering an upper-body injury early in camp, so Krueger probably wants to examine him against the Penguins.

Krueger said the lineup will mostly feature depth players and others battling for spots.

In past years, Larsson’s spot was usually pretty secure. At his best, the Swede can be a tenacious checker capable of chipping in some clutch offense. In 2015-16, five of his career-high 10 goals were game-winners.

But about halfway through 2016-17, Larsson dislocated his elbow and wrist. He struggled after returning the next season, compiling a ghastly minus-30 rating.

“I had a tough year,” he said.

While Larsson enjoyed a better year in 2018-19 – general manager Jason Botterill and former coach Phil Housley challenged him to change – he didn’t like his role.

“It was too much maybe defensive last year,” said Larsson, who signed a one-year, $1.55 million contract on July 12. “I think it got too much. I think I kind of want to be an offensive guy, too. It kind of took away from me.”

Larsson started only 15.6 % of his even-strength faceoffs in the offensive zone, according to hockey-reference.com. He scored six goals and 14 points in 73 games.

Still, Larsson said he never spoke to Housley about changing his role.

“I go in, do my job, it’s 100 percent,” he said. “But it was tough in the end. You always want to be out there. I felt like I had a decent season. I felt good about my game.”

Krueger acknowledged he’s still “getting to know” Larsson as a player. But from what he has seen, he believes Larsson can add more offense.

“You can see his base understanding of that defensive game … is very high,” Krueger said. “It’s just like for the offensive players to be solid without the puck, we need the defensive players to be a threat without the puck.

“Every line should be a threat to score. We expect Johan has that ability to take it to another level when you look at his skill set.”

Does Larsson believe he can showcase more offense?

“It’s hard for me to say,” he said. “I’ve always been a guy (who) worked for my ice time, I work for my opportunity. It’s not going to change.

“I’m a proud guy, I do whatever they want me to. But I kind of want to be a two-way guy.”

Larsson is one of three Sabres left from the 2013-14 squad that finished dead last in the NHL. Girgensons and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen are the others.

Don’t expect either team to show much this afternoon. They meet again for the season opener Thursday in Pittsburgh.

“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a game where it’s lines rolled and different looks taken,” Krueger said. “There’s no need to reveal any card. Now Pittsburgh has a lot less to hide because they’ve got a very similar core group, coaching staff, management. …

“So it’s us that will maybe just roll and play and … hopefully save some secrets.”

8 thoughts on “Sabres’ Johan Larsson impressing coach Ralph Krueger”

  1. This comment that Larsson is a ” stabilizing type of player” is a joke. Up until now I had respect for Krueger. But no way no how does a player that has been on a 7 year development program deserved such an accolade. Larsson so much as admitted he didn’t like the role the Sabres gave him. To bad. Somebody needs to remind this turd bomb that he is a professional. And I could care less that he can kill penalties and win a few faceoffs here and there. Big deal. Anybody can learn those abilities. The Sabres need scoring point blank. And if Larsson doesn’t show up tomorrow to prove he belongs on this team then he does not deserve any respect.

    1. There’s no doubt that the Sabres need scoring, but that needs to come from their top 9 primarily. As far as 4th lines go in the NHL, the Sabres have 1 of the better ones. They can play against other teams top lines, they can play well on the PK. And when it comes to scoring goals, surprisingly they rank in the top half of the NHL for 4th lines.

      So yeah its true we need more scoring, but that needs to be improved with our top 9. Last year we had really only 1 quality NHL line & were way too top heavy. This year we’re attempting to make our 2nd line a legit line & create more balance thru the lineup. Where hopefully by next year, our 3rd line will be filled out too & we can field an actual NHL roster for the 1st time in years.

      1. Agree completely, MillerVaive. Larry and Z had the lowest offensive zone start % among forwards in the NHL last year. They were asked to play an insanely defensive role usually against the top lines of their opponents, and they did an amazing job. Despite the heavy defensive role, Z actually increased his point production. Aside from the scoring of the first line last year, I would say the 4th line, given the role they were asked to play, was the Sabres’ second best line. They also manned the PK unit that was top 10 in the NHL for most of the year and finished 12th. The Sabres had a lot of issues, primarily on defense, but the fourth line wasn’t one of them.

    2. Miller Vaive admittedly I don’t have the data in front of me. However, I do know for a fact Larsson scored a measley 6 goals. Wallmark a fourth line center for Carolina had 10 goals, Luke Glendening for Chicago a 4th line center 10 goals. I could go on but my main point is Larsson has been here long enough. It’s obvious to me that a stench is still in the locker room and it seems Larsson gets a pass every year. I don’t like his attitude I don’t like him. Now you can get into corsi numbers all you want. Yes they are important when qualifying a player. But math does not measure the size of a players heart and soul. And, just like last year, Larsson will go out and have a good game today in preseason and then when the regular season gets here he flunks. I don’t want to hear how he’s such a special little faceoff man and how he’s such a wonderful defensive player and how he can shut down and play against other teams better players. Again any good coach worth their salt can teach those abilities. They are not a talent they are not a desire to win those are taught. My point being that it’s time to give the younger players down in Rochester a shot and stop bringing players back who give nothing back in return.

  2. Jose the NHL isn’t fantasy hockey. Sorry there’s a lot more to playing hockey than just Corsy numbers. Have you even been in locker room? I’ll answer that. No you haven’t. We dont play sports on a simulator. Thank God.

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