As clearly indicated by the title, New Jersey Devils defenseman Adam Larsson is #2 on our Top 25 Devils Under 25 List. Way back in September when it was time to come up with this list, I merely sent out a list of all of the Devils under the age of 25 to each writer and told them to rank them all. I didn't tell them how to rank them. I didn't tell them whether they should value potential or accomplishments more than the other. The rankings of each writer are subjective, and that's really the whole point of this list. It's an exercise in perception of where we consider all of the young players in the system. As it so happens, the Devils may have a lot of players in the system, but only a three are already set for the NHL at such a young age. Larsson was ranked second in that trio. Though,
#2 - Adam Larsson - D - Height: 6'3" - Weight: 201 lbs. - Age: 20 - 2012-13 Team: Albany (AHL)
You probably know all about Adam Larsson's path to the NHL. Larsson broke into the Elitserien with Skllefteå's first team as he turned 17 and proved to a be strong player at that level. He also did very well at the international level with Sweden's U-18 and U-20 teams. While his production dropped a bit in 2010-11, he grew as a defender as NHL scouts deemed him the top defenseman of the 2011 NHL Draft class. As it turned out, the Devils had a lost season in 2010-11 and missed the playoffs entirely. They were set to pick eighth overall, but they won the draft lottery so they moved up to fourth overall - and had a chance at getting Larsson. Thanks to Edmonton eschewing defense, Colorado taking Landeskog, and Florida choosing Huberdeau, the Devils fanbase was thrilled when Larsson's name was announced.
Everything about him states that he would be a special player. First and foremost, Larsson made it in a very good professional league in Europe before he even turned 18. That alone signifies that the player has some serious talent. Second, he seemed to have all the tools you'd want in a two-way defenseman. Here's what I've gleaned from Kevin's profile of Larsson before the 2011 draft. He's big. He skates well for a player with his frame. He's got a mind for both ends of the game and able to make good decisions with and without the puck. He can be physical without going over the line. He's got a good shot and is even better at passing. The only knock on him would be experience, but that comes with time - and he already had two seasons of experience in Sweden's top league. When you're this talented at a young age, the sky is the limit. Needless to say, the best is yet to come from Larsson.
Third and just as important to consider how special he is, Larsson played in the NHL last season. I was against the move. After he was drafted, I thought he was going to command the money a fourth overall pick normally gets and I'd prefer him stay at Skllefteå for one more season before throwing him into the NHL. When he signed for less than that summer, I still preferred that he'd not play in the NHL in 2011-12. When training camp was on the horizon, I pointed out that only five defensemen in the history of the organization suited up in at least one game for the New Jersey Devils at the age of 18 or 19. For Larsson to do it, he really would be in select company. As it turned out, Larsson not only made the roster but he played in 65 games, he led the Devils defense in points with 18, averaged 20:37 of ice time per game, and drove me to write this post eating crow in by the end of October. Larsson being active at all is special enough; but it truly is impressive that he played a significant role on the blueline.
Of course, it wasn't all glitter and gold for Larsson. Like most 18 and 19 year old defensemen playing their first season in the NHL, he had his share of struggles. He played quite a lot of minutes, but he was kept to playing against an average level of competition at even strength. His offensive production did lead a woefully unproductive Devils blueline, but Larsson just put up 68 shots on net in 65 games. His on ice Corsi rate was second on the team, but the rate itself was pretty low at 1.65. As the season wore on, the physical nature of the NHL seemed to wear down on him. After getting rocked by a hit from P.K. Subban, Larsson was out with a bruise. Larsson recovered, but his play really didn't and he began getting scratched more in favor of Peter Harrold as the Devils enter the playoffs. It's not that Larsson wasn't making mistakes earlier, but he seemed to make more and more bad reads after the injury than before. Also, Harrold was playing pretty well as a #6 defenseman and with the playoffs approaching, Peter DeBoer went with the veteran. Larsson did return to the lineup for a few games in the playoffs and scored in Game 2 against Philadelphia, but his last appearance in uniform would be Game 1 against the Rangers. I don't point all this out to denigrate Larsson. He just didn't set the league on fire in his first season, that's all. It just means he needs more experience and time to improve, like all young defensemen.
The big positive is that there were times last season where it was clear Larsson would become a top defenseman one day. He's made some beautiful first passes out of the zone. He didn't freak out in his own end when things got rought. He's hit the tape on some long passes that sprung Devils forwards and surprised everyone else. Simply, we got to see flashes of his wonderful potential as he was establishing himself as a NHL player. Like Jacob Josefson, he is definitely a NHL player and he is only in Albany because of the lockout. Because of the latter, he's high up on our list. Because of the former, he's as high as #2 and barely missed out on #1. Adam Larsson will be an important defenseman for the New Jersey Devils one day.
I can easily understand why some would say he is the Devils' best player under the age of 25. Three of our writers would say so. He's got all of this skill, he's done something very few Devils have done, and he's only going to get much, much, much better. I can support that point of view. I put him at #2 because my choice for #1 (no prizes for those who guess who it is, it should be obvious by now) simply had a better season where he proved he was an important player on the Devils right now. Again, I'm not keeping Larsson down. I have no doubt Larsson will be a top pairing defenseman one day. Don't be surprised if he's our definitive #1 next season.