Simply put, Adam Larsson is the future of the New Jersey Devils defense. The 19-year-old, played well in spurts as he tried to adjust to the speed and size of the NHL game. A devastating hit from Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban forced Larsson out of the lineup for several games and when he was finally able to return, some of the shine on his game had diminished. Could this just have been a curve in his long professional road ahead or could it be a sign of things to come for the Swedish phenom?
Larsson was a boy among men in the Swedish Elite League in terms of age only. In both the SEL and with the Devils, he logged large amounts of ice time, playing in all situations. At 6′ 3″ and over 200 lbs., Larsson already has the size needed to compete with any player in the NHL. In his first full season with New Jersey, he had a respectable 18 points (2g 16a) in 65 regular season games. He appeared in only five of the teams 24 postseason games netted a lone goal, albeit a big one against Philadelphia.
His numbers should have been better. On Feb. 3, the Devils played host to the Canadiens at the Prudential Center. Late in the third period of that game, Larsson was checked hard by Subban. The hit was clean, but the force of it sent the Devils rookie flying into the sideboards – back first. Larsson was diagnosed with a lower-back bruise and missed more than three weeks.
Once he returned, Larsson played the next 17 games scared. He was no longer carrying the puck out of the New Jersey zone with confidence. His passes weren’t as crisp as they had been and his mental mistakes were numerous and at times costly. Larsson finished with just two assists and was minus-4 in those final 17 games.
So what can the Devils expect from the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in his second season? Hopefully a fresh start.They say time heals all wounds, but the mental ones leave the biggest scars. Larsson will need to get back to the basics and play the game that made him a Top 5 NHL pick. One thing that may be a huge help to Larsson is the addition of former Devils great and Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens to the bench.
No disrespect to the great Larry Robinson, but the addition of Stevens behind the bench is long overdue and it really couldn’t come at a better time. Under Stevens tutelage there is no doubt in my mind that Larsson can and will return to his pre-Subban hit self. Not only that, but he will be a better hockey player – more refined. This should better prepare him to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump.”
The Devils need the young Swede to be a difference maker. On a a rag-tag blueline mostly made up of aging and unwanted defenseman, Larsson has to be a star on the back-end. I have no doubt he can live up to all the lofty expectations. The question is, will he be able to put last season behind him and move forward?
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