Birth Date: November 12th, 1992 (22 years old)
Place of Birth: Skellefteå, SWE
Experience: 4 seasons
Drafted by New Jersey in 2011 (4th overall).
Before we get into this, I just want to say that I was much more impressed with Adam Larsson than I expected to be. Like, a lot more. And I think by the end of this post you will be, too. But you're also probably going to think I'm insane (and let me know about it, nicely).
The Pros and Cons:
Unlike the last player we covered from the dumpster fire Devils, Larsson is a young man. Very Young. And at 22, this is already his fourth season of NHL action.The biggest knocks on Larsson are that he has little offensive game to speak of and he's missed significant time in his career due to injury. In fairness to Larsson, his games lost this season were due to a nasty little matter known as the Mumps. We again reached out to our resident Devils expert, John Fischer (@JKFischer), of SB Nation's In Lou We Trust to get the lowdown on Larsson.
For the first three seasons or so, Larsson represented potential not yet realized. He was prone to taking plenty of hits, taking too long on the puck, and playing with a kind of tunnel vision. He would occasionally make some excellent breakout passes, but those were few and far between. This season started off roughly, but he started to get more minutes and opportunities in November. He earned them. Larsson started to react more quickly in his own zone, especially with the puck. In turn, he stopped getting hit so much and was able to get some more shots on net when up on the blueline. Then he got the mumps and was out for most of December. By the time he returned, Larsson was moved up to the top pairing next to Andy Greene under the current co-coaching regime. He's handled himself against tough competition and his good play has led to increased confidence both within himself and with the coaches. Here's an anecdote of his growth: Recently, he made a last-ditch effort to deny Bobby Ryan a last second equalizer at an empty net to preserve a win. Larsson of prior seasons or even in October would have never made that play. Larsson will never be fleet-of-foot or an offensive dynamo, but right now, he's a solid top-four defenseman at the age of 22.It'll be interesting to see how he'll be used when Damon Severson (who Peter DeBoer had with Greene) returns. His battle for minutes is not yet over. However, given his current performance along with his age, the Devils would likely want an actual quality player from Detroit for Larsson. The Devils are thin at forward, both at the prospect and NHL level. Especially at right wing. So if the Red Wings seriously want Larsson, then they better be prepared to discuss someone like Gustav Nyquist as a return. I know that's unlikely, but so is hoping the Devils would part with a 22-year old defender playing significant minutes.
This is where I'm probably going to lose you, but try to stay with me before you go sliding into the comments. I don't think a Nyquist for Larsson swap is absurd at all. In fact, I think it's the best potential long-term deal of any we've covered so far. We've already established that Larsson is a solid defender, but in my opinion Mr. Fischer has actually undersold his offensive development. Larsson has scored more 5v5 points than any Red Wings defenseman, and has done so in 13-17 less games (and in less 5v5 TOI than the top-4). He is also fourth on the entire (admittedly possession-poor) Devils team in FF%Rel. What's more is Larsson has accomplished all of this while enduring more difficult deployment than any player on either team, and it's not particularly close. He registers almost no power play time, so apparently none of New Jersey's three head coach-types have figured out that he's actually pretty good at creating offense. And maybe he wouldn't be good at it just yet. But he's 22! That is surely something that could be brought along slowly.
So do I think they should do this deal? I've hemmed and hawed over it for literally days, but finally came to a decision this morning. I used analytics to provide what I think is a pretty interesting, if not compelling argument for this trade. But that same analytical framework won't allow me to support this trade. Why not? One number: 39. Larsson has played 39 games this year; less than half of one season. As much as I think this deal could actually favor the Red Wings in the long run, I just can't bring myself to give up a proven 25-year-old forward for 39 games of really promising play. I understand that a year from now this could all look pretty stupid. Just know that by then the Devil's demands could also be for far more than Gustav Nyquist.