30 in 15: Devils sleeper Larsson poised for next step
Thursday, 09.19.2013 / 3:00 AM
By Mike G. Morreale
Is this the year defenseman Adam Larsson becomes an everyday player for the New Jersey Devils?
Coach Peter DeBoer thinks so.
"I believe Adam is ready to take a step here," DeBoer told NHL.com. "He came into the League and has had two years learning the pro game and spent valuable time in the American Hockey League last year during the lockout, and I believe he knows what this is about now and is ready to take a step."
DeBoer has been very patient with the 20-year-old Swede during his first two seasons in the NHL. He's allowed him to play alongside many of the veterans, including Andy Greene, and at times opted to have him watch from the stands as a healthy scratch. The fact Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello traded veteran Henrik Tallinder could signal more playing time for the 2011 first-round (No. 4) draft pick.
"He's got tons of potential," Devils captain Bryce Salvador told NHL.com. "It's a tough position to come in and produce, and very rarely do you have a defenseman who hasn't spent time in the minors. So I think that last year was tough for him but, all in all, he has all the assets and skills and he'll be fine."
Larsson averaged 18:06 of ice time and saw more action in penalty-killing situations than on the power play during the 2012-13 season when he finished with no goals and six assists in 37 games. He had four goals and 19 points in 33 games with the team's AHL affiliate in Albany.
"It's no secret that defensemen take a while to come into their own in this league and I believe Adam is on the verge of that," DeBoer said.
There were several moments last season when Larsson would use his body effectively, make smart decisions at the point and generate some quality chances. Though he didn't score a goal, he finished sixth on the team in hits (94) and fifth in blocked shots (67). He averaged 0.81 shots per game, however.
As a rookie in 2011-12, when he averaged 1.04 shots, he had two goals and 18 points in 65 games. He also was given more playing time with the man advantage, averaging 1:38 on the power play. He equaled a franchise record for rookie defensemen (Scott Niedermayer, Bruce Driver) with points in five straight games, producing one goal and four assists from Nov. 19-26, 2011.
"I see myself as a two-way defenseman, but it doesn't matter to me how the team uses me because I want to help and want to play," Larsson said. "If it's penalty kill or power play, I'll do whatever it takes to make sure I'm part of the team."
With more game exposure and ice time on the power play in 2013-14, look for Larsson to become a valuable asset for the Devils this season with the possibility of reaching personal high marks across the board.
"You have to realize he's still a young kid and you can't overanalyze, just let him play," Salvador said. "He's making plays out there that top defensemen make and he's going to grow on his own. Fortunately, he's in a good organization that's patient with him; they see the bigger picture in what they have with him."