By Dave Turner
When the New Jersey Devils selected Adam Larsson with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, there was hope abound for the talented young Swedish defenseman.
Fast forward three seasons and Larsson’s time in the NHL has been less than stellar. Though he’s shown signs of promise, injuries and demotions to the AHL have been a roadblock for the young d-man. Considering the success of Dougie Hamilton, who was drafted after Larsson, the pressure is mounting for the once considered, blue-chip prospect to produce.
With his entry level contract now expiring, he’s looking for a new deal. While no one can be sure what kind of number he’s looking for, he did express some thoughts to a Swedish publication about what he’d like. According to an English translation of the piece, Larsson expressed interest in receiving a 1-way contract (which would at the very least pay him the same amount of money if he were to play in the AHL or NHL) but no salary numbers were discussed. Of course, Larsson would have to clear waivers in order to be sent back down to the minors next year, as he meets the NHL’s 21 years old, 80 games played rule. His age, plus the fact that he’s played in more than 80 NHL games, makes it so he cannot be sent down without being exposed.
“Of course you wanna play in the NHL but meanwhile I got to play and develop. Then it doesn’t matter where I play,” said Larsson, of his desire to play over anything else, according to the translation of the interview, which was conducted in Swedish.
According to Capgeek.com, Larsson’s qualifying offer would be $874,125. It’s safe to assume that he’ll be looking for at least a bit more than that, though the Devils could be set on offering him the minimum if they feel he still has a lot to prove.
That’s where Sweden could come into play. Though it’d be hard for any SEL team to match that number, perhaps Larsson feels that he’ll get a better chance to shine should he play in Sweden, then come back to the Devils looking to sign a better deal. The young Swede, who turns 22 in November, stated that it would be “fun” to come back and that nothing would be decided until the Devils come back to him with an offer.
The fact is, knowing that Larsson could be tempted by at least somewhat comparable numbers in his home country, New Jersey will have do their best to make Sweden un-enticing for No.5 and there’s no doubt that money talks. It’s no secret that he has been less than satisfied with his playing time on numerous occasions, so who knows what he’s deriving out of the lack of a deal at this juncture.
With that being said, 2014-2015 is going to be a crucial year for the once-heralded blueliner. When you’re selected in the top-5 of the NHL Entry Draft, expectations are high. Considering that the Devils have developed defensemen like Scott Niedermayer, Colin White, Brian Rafalski and Paul Martin in the past, a lot is to be expected of Larsson.
In the lockout shortened season of 2012-2013, the Skelleftea, Sweden native played in 37 games for New Jersey. His plus-four plus/minus and six points (0g, 6a) were promising, at least enough to warrant him making the club out of camp in 2013-2014.
Much like the entire team, Larsson struggled out of the gate in 13′-14′, going his first 11 games without a point, while registering a minus-six rating over that same span.
Larsson played in a few more games before being sidelined with a lower-body injury. He missed a substantial chunk of the season, but was assigned to Albany after he returned.
Though there was some unsubstantiated talk about an internal dispute that kept Larsson in the minors, he did get valuable playing time and his play peaked in Albany. In total, he played 33 games for the A-Devils and finished with 19 points (3g, 16a) and a plus-2 rating.
Upon being called back up to New Jersey, Larsson posted decent numbers and looked strong in doing so. He had a plus-three rating, but did not register a poin despite logging strong minutes, culminating in 22:15 TOI in the season finale.
So what does all of this mean for the young defenseman?
First off, he’s still only 21. Though that’s not quite a baby in terms of NHL standards, where 18-year-olds do contribute, he’s still very young. In regards to some more advanced statistics, when we was playing for the big club last season, his on-ice Corsi and Relative Corsi rating were second on the team for defenseman only behind Andy Greene.
The eye-test on Larsson late in the season was pretty promising as well. He looked like he benefited from the time spent in the minors and came back and played well in the final five games of the season. Being that it was such a small sample size, it’s hard to look in to those games too much, but it at least leaves a bit of optimism in 2014-2015.
The Swedish Elite League might be tempting, or at least a ploy by Larsson to elicit a one-way contract worth a lot more money from the team, but he’s probably not going anywhere. What needs to be seen from him is consistent play. He’s most likely never going to be a strong puck mover or a guy who can log power-play time and put up points, but that’s okay. Above everything else, his game needs to evolve to the point where he’s strong enough in his own zone to warrant the playing time.
If Larsson is able to become a strong-skating, mobile defenseman, then the pick will be justified. Really, all he needs at this point is a chance to go out there and play NHL hockey on a consistent basis.
It’s still too early to attach the “bust” tag to him, but this coming season may be a poignant moment in deciding his legacy in New Jersey.