Larsson finding a home with Devils
DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency
|Jets forward Alexander Burmistrov (left) checks Devils defenceman Adam Larsson at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., Dec. 3, 2011. (FRED GREENSLADE/Reuters)
EDMONTON - Adam Larsson came close to becoming a member of the Edmonton Oilers.
The New Jersey Devils rookie defenceman was the second-ranked player going into last summer’s NHL Entry draft, and had it not been for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, probably would have ended up in Edmonton.
“I think we knew pretty early that Ryan would be the No. 1 pick,” Larsson said, prior to Wednesday’s contest against the Oilers. “They (Oilers) talked to me more at the combine that week than at the draft. I had about three meetings with them. They are good guys and it probably would be fun to play here as well.”
As it turned out, Larsson went on to be selected fourth in the draft and is now plying his trade with the Devils. Winger Gabriel Landeskog and centre Jonathan Huberdeau went to the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers respectively after the Oilers selected Nugent-Hopkins.
“I’m very happy to be in New Jersey,” Larsson said. “It’s a good team for me to be with. So far, it’s been a good year. There are a lot of good guys here and it’s a good organization. I’m very happy to be where I am right now.”
Larsson, 19, was considered the top defensive prospect in last summer’s draft.
The native of Skelleftea, Sweden had drawn comparisons to Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings.
It’s unlikely Larsson will have the type of career Lidstrom has had, but it’s very possible he could become the cornerstone of the Devils blue line for years to come.
This season, Larsson has two goals and 12 assists in 40 games with the Devils.
“Things have gone pretty well for me this year,” Larsson said. “I think I’ve had some ups and downs, but I think that now after the Christmas break, it’s been pretty good for me.
“You have to get used to the smaller rink, the skill and the speed in this league. There is a lot more here than there is in Sweden. That’s the biggest adjustment.”
Larsson is averaging well over 21 minutes a night on the Devils blue line this season. He’s currently the team’s top-scoring defenceman despite not getting an abundance of power-play time.
“He’s a very good player and full marks for everything he’s done this year and how much he’s played,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “It’s interesting because he doesn’t play a lot of special teams and is a five-on-five guy, primarily, and is very good at it.
“This kid has a heck of a career in front of him, there’s no question about that.”
Had the Oilers not considered Nugent-Hopkins a special player, odds are good they would have taken a long, hard look at Larsson as someone who could have become a stalwart on their blue line for years to come.
The Oilers were both in need of a centreman and a defenceman heading into the draft.
As it turned out, the Oilers were able to get a pretty good centre in Nugent-Hopkins, despite the fact he is currently out with a shoulder injury.
Larsson, meanwhile, has found a home in New Jersey where perhaps the spotlight isn’t as intense for him there than it is for Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton.
“I think all that depends on what kind of player you are,” Larsson said. “If you are expected to put up points it might be tougher here. For me, as a defenceman, I don’t think I have those types of expectations were I need to have 50 points in my first season. It makes thing a little easier, but I still want to be better every day and I don’t think it really matters what team I’m playing for.”