New Jersey Devils: Adam Larsson Blossoming into Stud Defenseman


“The New Jersey Devils are very proud to select, from Skelleftea, Sweden, Adam Larsson.” Fans at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul were cheering for Larsson, the last of the top four prospects to be selected in the 2011 NHL Draft (others were Ryan Nugent Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, and Jonathan Huberdeau). As soon as former director of scouting David Conte announced the pick, TSN’s Craig Button coined the selection to be “the steal of the draft.” After a whirlwind of a career, Larsson looks to be fulfilling Button’s prophecy.

Making the team out of training camp at just 18-years old, Larsson had his growing pains but ultimately succeeded in his rookie year, finishing with 18 points in 65 games and finishing twelfth in Calder Trophy voting for the league’s best rookie. (Adam Henrique finished third that year.)

Struggling with injuries and less sheltered starts, Larsson saw himself shuffled between the NHL and AHL. His play in the AHL was inspiring but not transferring to his time with New Jersey and he was likewise held accountable by former head coach Pete DeBoer for his mistakes. The same could be said for his third and the first half of his fourth season. The Devils stumbled out of the gate in 2014-15, which led to DeBoer’s firing.

Since then, Larsson has turned his career around. In his final 46 games, Larsson scored 20 points. Not only that, he looked more comfortable on the ice, lining up next to Andy Greene. He was one of few bright spots on an otherwise pitiful Devils squad last year and showed enough potential to garner a 6-year, $25 million extension this offseason. Larsson, now 22, is signed through his age-28 season and will be looked at to be one of the Devils’ top contributors from the blueline.

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Larsson, with two points in eight games, has been one of the Devils’ most talented rearguards this year, thanks to his superb defensive ability. In this piece, much like my previous write-up on Travis Zajac, I will go in-depth on what exactly Larsson has done to raise his game.

Possession Statistics

Larsson used to be your typical offensive-minded defenseman: if he was given a lot of starts in the offensive zone, he would be on the ice for more shots for than shots against. Maybe that looks impressive, but it isn’t. Think about it: he started six out of 10 shifts in the offensive zone. Naturally, he (and his linemates) will have more shot attempts than they allow. Even with these favorable starts, Larsson was generally a worse driver of play than his linemates.

Since DeBoer’s firing, Larsson has considerably turned it around. The coaches afforded him far fewer starts in the offensive zone but Larsson responded with more shooting attempts. He became one of the least sheltered defensemen in the league in the second half of 2015 yet he was wildly successful. He scored points, he played sound defense, and he did it without much support.

This season, Larsson has an unearthly 23.3% of starts in the offensive zone (for every time Larsson starts in the offensive zone, he starts three more times in the defensive zone) yet somehow, someway, Larsson has a 49.7% Corsi for (and a CF% relative of 3.4. That combination is not just good, it is elite. Larsson ranks first in the league in defensive zone starts and has the second best Corsi rating of the next twelve defensemen. That is insane.

Again, Larsson does not get nearly enough opportunities to showcase his offense, yet he has still done so even while taking so many defensive zone starts. If he is not a stud at driving play then I don’t know who is.

Special Teams

As I’ve said, Larsson has become a stalwart in the defensive zone. Few players have been stronger in their own end of the ice than the Devils’ Swedish star. Larsson has earned top-pairing duties both in 5-on-5 situations and when killing penalties. He has played the same number of minutes as Andy Greene when shorthanded and has had as much (if not slightly more) success as his partner.

The powerplay so far has not had much of Larsson. He has played a mere two minutes on the man advantage. While Larsson gets a breather, coach John Hynes relies on Eric Gelinas and Damon Severson for contributions. I don’t at all think Larsson stays off during the man advantage because of a lack of skill. I think it is a good allocation of abilities by Hynes. Neither Severson nor Gelinas have played a minute on the penalty kill this year, given their skill sets. Balancing Larsson’s minutes with those of his teammates will help keep the blue-line fresh, especially in late game and overtime situations.


This is the one area where Larsson has not received much credit this year. His scoring numbers before 2015 suggested he would be no more than a 20-point scorer. With a 64-game 24-point campaign on his resume, Larsson has shown 35-point potential.

This season has started slowly for the Swede, but as I laid out above, look no further than the fact that he is not getting ample (or any, really) powerplay minutes. He rarely starts in the offensive zone. Hynes relies on Larsson to be the anchor of that defense when opposing offenses attack the net.

Until Jon Merrill returns or Severson shows more of that two-way potential that was on full display last year, Larsson will continue to miss out on the benefits of equitable zone starts and powerplay minutes.


Forgive me for sounding repetitive, but Larsson’s 2015-16 start – specifically his defensive play – has been a revelation. Whether people were hoping for it or not, Larsson has shown the ability to be a workhorse, capable of 25-minute performances without conceding many quality chances.

Defensively, there is nothing for Larsson to do except continue to play strong. His defensive abilities already remind me of Greene’s yet Larsson is just 22-years old with plenty of room to grow. If the offensive-minded defensemen start to shape up, then Larsson could become to New Jersey what Victor Hedman is to Tampa Bay: an invaluable minutes eater who can play sound offense but is relegated to defensive duties.


The stats look nice and all, but it is on the ice where Larsson shines. Larsson is rangy, creating a stronger radius than other defensemen through which forwards cannot pass. He is making smart decisions in the offensive zone and looks comfortable on both ends of the ice. He has had much success and is looking like the top-two defenseman that I thought he would be.

In all, Larsson is a stud. He is amazing at offense, defense, special teams, and driving play. He will only continue to get better before he reaches his peak and at the point he could be a 50-point defenseman (who is top-five in the league in terms of two-way ability). What do you think about the Devils’ top young defensemen? Is he for real or is he just benefitting from being Greene’s partner? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

Next: Travis Zajac's turnaround season