Adam Larsson appears to be the odd man out for the New Jersey Devils, starting the season as a healthy scratch while the Devils showcase their impressive defensive depth. The 20-year old prospect finds himself behind several veteran defensemen including new captain Bryce Salvador, but is sitting Larsson the right decision? Is a lack of playing time inhibiting his’s growth, and perhaps more importantly, could Larsson help the New Jersey Devils on the ice?
Let’s consider the players that Larsson could potentially replace in the starting pairings for the New Jersey Devils:
Anton Volchenkov has appeared slow at times, particularly during last season’s deep playoff run. The 30-year old carries a 4.25 million dollar cap hit, which is worth considering as the salary cap declines sharply in coming years. Volchenkov provides nothing for an offensively-challenged Devils team, but he is a consistent presence defensively. He blocks shots and hasn’t posted a negative +/- since 2008, including a +58 in the postseason over his career. If the Devils started Larsson over Volchenkov, it would be strictly for the financial benefit and a slight boost offensively.
Mark Fayne has shown limited upside, but his remarkable consistency, youth, and relatively inexpensive contract should keep him in the lineup. Larsson carries a potential that Mark Fayne lacks but it comes with a higher likelihood of mistakes as Larsson continues to adjust to the NHL.
Bryce Salvador is the new captain of the New Jersey Devils, and is unlikely to be removed in favor of a prospect, regardless of how talented Adam Larsson may be. Salvador is another veteran defensemen with no upside and middling skills, but his role as a leader will keep him on the ice at least through the rest of the season.
Marek Zidlicky is the biggest offensive threat the New Jersey Devils have on defense. His booming shot, power play skill, and ability to generate scoring makes him an invaluable part of the New Jersey Devils defense. Larsson should not play over Zidlicky.
Andy Greene represents a high trade value option for the New Jersey Devils, but as long as he is in New Jersey he is a better defensive option than the inexperienced Larsson. Greene provides a top-line defensive skill set on this team, some offense, and consistent decision making. His game is similar to that of Adam Larsson’s, however, which makes him somewhat expendable.
Henrik Tallinder has returned from injury to further strengthen the New Jersey Devils’ defensive pairings in 2013. At times, Tallinder can be one of the best options on the ice. Still, one has to question how many mediocre defensemen the New Jersey Devils need. Adam Larsson has the potential to be great, which is something Tallinder will likely never be.
Though Larsson was not the same player after an injury caused by a crushing hit from PK Subban last year, the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft showed flashes of greatness during his rookie campaign and deserves a chance to play. The New Jersey Devils have too many mediocre defensemen, and Larsson is the only player in the group that has the potential to be an elite player in the NHL.
His offensive presence, particularly his passing ability and skating, should be enough to land a spot on the ice. He’s not getting any better by riding the bench at the NHL level. While it is nice to stay with the team and build chemistry as he works with NHL coaches, including the legendary Scott Stevens, even AHL playing time would be better than being a healthy scratch every night.
In the end, the New Jersey Devils need to find a way to get Adam Larsson on the ice. Simply practicing with the NHL team is not enough to develop a player of his ability. The New Jersey Devils are certainly hindering Larsson’s growth by holding him out, and one can only hope the Devils are waiting for an injury to their older players or working on a trade to get the defenseman back on the ice (and acquire some much-needed scoring).