Adam Larsson (Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Adam Larsson went from a top-four defenseman to a top-three rearguard with the New Jersey Devils in 2015-16, but he wants to take “an even bigger step” forward this season with the Edmonton Oilers. Larsson, 23, sees his offense as one area he can make strides.
The one-for-one swap that brought Adam Larsson to Edmonton and sent Taylor Hall to New Jersey caught just about everyone off guard, and the reaction among many was that the Devils had gotten the better of the deal.
One reason the general consensus swayed in the favor of New Jersey was that Larsson, 23, had yet to transform into the top-pairing blueliner he was projected to be. But the now-Oilers defenseman has faith in his ability, and he believes he can move into a bigger role in Edmonton, make a bigger impact than he had in New Jersey and make the trade look more even than it was believed to be when the deal was completed.
So after logging 22:30 of ice time per game for the Devils this past season, scoring three goals and 18 points and skating as a top-pairing defenseman at the World Championship for Sweden, Larsson intends to take his game to another level.
"I think I can take an even bigger step,” Larsson told media Monday. "There was a lot of focus on defense last year, and penalty kill, but obviously the next step is more offense and hopefully a little more power play time.”
Larsson’s right in his assessment of the minutes he played in New Jersey in 2015-16, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t provide more offensive punch if given the chance.
Of defensemen to play at least 1,250 minutes at 5-on-5 last season, only Andy Greene, Larsson’s partner on the blueline, took a lower percentage of offensive-zone starts than the newly acquired Edmonton rearguard. Larsson’s percentage of defensive zone starts actually eclipsed Greene’s, too. Add to it that Larsson has seen less than 35 minutes of power play time in the past two seasons and you can see where he might be able to find some extra impact offensively.
Larsson was drafted with the belief that he could provide as much spark moving the puck up ice as he does stripping opponents of it in his own end. He believes that’s how he can be most effective, even if its taken him a while to get to a point where he’s putting points on the board.
"I always see myself as a two-way defenseman,” Larsson said. “You kind of have to realize it usually takes a little bit longer for defensemen to be where you want to be in this league. I didn't really get stressed because I didn't get the role I wanted. But it takes time. You have to realize you’re still young and learning. I think with that, Jersey did a fairly good job with me.”
The hope for the Oilers, if they brought Larsson in to be the two-way defenseman he believes he can be, is that his season will look more like the 2014-15 campaign than the past year. In 64 games during the 2014-15 season, Larsson notched three goals and 24 points in 64 games while averaging nearly 21 minutes of ice time per game.
One thing that could help sway this trade closer to even is that Larsson’s almost certain to have a much more mobile and play-driving parter to play alongside. Greene’s veteran presence may have helped settle Larsson at times, but having Andrej Sekera or Oscar Klefbom as a partner should see Larsson get more chances to produce offensively.
Larsson said he knows what will be expected of him, though, and he sounds ready for the challenge.
“Obviously, it’s big shoes to fill," Larsson said. “But he's a forward and I'm a D-man, so it’s different. But New Jersey got a really good player and I'm happy to be here.”
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