Adam Larsson was selected fourth overall in the 2011 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils. He’s not nearly as accomplished as his classmates in the top 10 – he’s squarely the third-best defenseman in the first round as far as pro achievements, behind Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Brodin.
What Larsson does have is flashes of brilliant potential and one solid season out of four in the NHL: His 2014-15 campaign as a 22-year-old defenseman, with 24 points in 64 games -- 18 of them at even-strength -- and 20:58 per game in ice time. Liberated from Peter DeBoer’s prison for young defensemen, and paired with solid veteran Andy Greene, Larsson showed what he’s capable of being.
It was enough to sell the Devils: Larsson signed a 6-year, $25-million deal on Saturday ahead of arbitration. It breaks down as $2.5 million in 2015-15; $3 million in 2017-18; $4.5 million in 2018-19; $4.85 million in 2019-20; $5.05 million in 2020-21. That's a $4.16 million AAV.
According to Tom Gulitti, it has a limited no-trade clause in the final three seasons, which is when the Devils would move him if this doesn’t pan out.
It’s a long-term deal in the tradition of the one former GM Lou Lamoriello gave center Adam Henrique two years ago, which was six years and $24 million.
John Fischer of In Lou We Trust isn’t completely sold on Larsson, but is OK with the deal:
The first two years of the contract are more in line with what I think Larsson has earned so far: $2.5 million in the first year, $3 million in the next. It appears to me that the four years after that are based on what kind of defenseman he organization thinks Larsson will become. Since it's at least $4.5 million in each of those four years, they see him as a potential first-pairing caliber defenseman. That's certainly possible.
Larsson is still 22 and while he's played quite a bit, he has shown legitimate signs of improvement last season. Signs that he can be someone who can handle significant minutes against tough competition well. Hopefully he will reach that level as opposed to becoming a Dan Girardi-style first-pairing defenseman: someone paid like one but doesn't perform like one. Preferably by that third year, when the salary jumps up beyond $4 million.
New coach John Hynes worked well with young defensemen in the Penguins’ farm system, so one can be assured he’s going to put Larsson in a position to excel -- perhaps with more minutes than he saw last season.
He’s still tremendously young, 23 in November, and if he figures it out then Larsson’s going to be an essential piece of the foundation the Devils are going to rebuild in the next few seasons.
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