New Jersey Devils rookie Adam Larsson is currently the youngest defenseman in the NHL. When you ask his peers, he looks anything but a rookie.
To say he’s impressed his teammates in the early going would be an understatement. Larsson has been the quarterback of the team’s power play and leads the team in ice time for defensemen. All of that coming from a player that is 18 years old and two weeks into his NHL career.
“He’s come in and shown everybody that he can play in this league,” forward David Clarkson said.
One of the biggest adjustments Larsson has had to make is the transition from the European ice surface to North America. There’s also a difference in physicality between the Swedish Elite League and NHL. Larsson said he talked to a lot fellow Swedes in the off-season about making those adjustments. He also mentioned that it has been a tough transition, but don’t tell Patrik Elias that.
“It’s pretty amazing at 18 years old that he’s stepped in this well with a different style of hockey,” Elias said. “He looks comfortable out there; he doesn’t shy away from physical play; he’s smart with the puck and makes great plays. He has a great future ahead of him.”
Larsson’s maturity has given the coaching staff confidence to put the rookie on the ice a lot more than other first-year defensemen.
“It speaks of our confidence in him and what he’s been able to do. He’s been fantastic so far,” said head coach Peter DeBoer, who is in his first year as the bench boss in New Jersey. “It’s going to get tougher (for him) as the league gets better and better, but he’s been capable of handling everything we’ve thrown at him.”
Through Saturday’s game against Nashville, Larsson averaged 24:14 of ice time. The fourth-overall draft selection from June, who is used to the heavy workload from his time in Sweden, said that the excess of ice time has given him confidence, too, early on in his rookie campaign.
“I like it,” he said. “I think I play my best game when I get that much ice time.”
Larsson has had a lot of work on the power play in the early going, trailing only Ilya Kovalchuk when it comes to ice time on the man advantage.
“On the power play when he holds the puck on the blue line, he looks like a guy who has played 10 years in the league,” Clarkson said. “You don’t see many kids come in at that age and quarterback the power play. On a team like this, we’ve got Kovalchuk on one side, Elias and Parise down low. For him it’s probably like ‘Wow, I’m here with these guys?’ He still finds ways to make good plays and be smooth out there.”
Larsson’s teammates rave about his maturity off the ice, as well.
“He’s a great kid,” Clarkson said. “When you have a rookie come in and he’s as nice as he is, as funny and jokes around – for as old as he is, he’s very mature and he’s ready for this league.”
Henrik Tallinder added, “He never stresses out about anything. He’s really calm all the time off the ice. Even if something goes wrong with travelling, he’s just calm. Nothing can get him off the path he’s on.”
Tallinder was a key member of the Buffalo Sabres’ defense corps when Tyler Myers was a rookie in the 2009-10 season. As you know, Myers won the Calder Trophy that season. Tallinder sees similarity between the two, which is pretty high praise.
“I had the fortune to play with Tyler Myers in Buffalo, and he had the same kind of poise at that age,” Tallinder said of Larsson. “Usually it takes a bunch of years to get that poise and patience. He has that already – it’s kind of unfair!”Photo credit: Getty Images