Naturally, a lot of fanfare surrounded the selection of Adam Larsson with the 4th overall pick in the 2011 draft. For starters, Larsson was the highest Devils draft pick since the selection of Scott Niedermayer third overall around two decades prior. Back before Larsson started his career, John wrote a post about what an accomplishment of sorts it would be if Larsson even appeared in one game during his age 19 year. Well, as we all know, he jumped right into the NHL and performed well enough to earn a regular spot on the blue line for 65 games. He most likely would have appeared in even more if not for missing time due to a back injury on a tough hit from PK Subban.
Although Larsson had some difficult moments, as all rookies, and especially rookie defensemen of that age will, overall, his first year must be deemed an absolute success. Here is a list of all NHL defensemen in the shootout era who played at least 40 games in their age 19 season. It's some pretty interesting company, to say the least. I don't have the time to go through all the fancy stats and tell you who fared better than who. Let's take the fact that Larsson is even on this list of only 20 as a great statement in and of itself. Taken on their own, Larsson's advanced numbers stand up just fine, especially for a player of that age.
Let's take this one step further, because now Adam is in his third season. He has missed significant time with injury this season, appearing in only 20 NHL games. He endured a lockout last season that probably cost him 30 games at the NHL level. And yet, still, there are only 21 defensemen in the post shootout era who have played more NHL games than Adam Larsson before their age 21 season was complete.
But, you say, he is currently stuck in Albany, what gives? Well, outside of the lockout of 2012, Adam had never played a game in the AHL prior to this season. He has now played 14 games for Albany over the past month plus. Out of the 21 other defensemen who played more NHL games in their age 18/19 - 21 seasons, 8 of them also played at least 10 or more non-lockout AHL games too (Del Zotto, Ekman-Larssen, Leddy, Faulk, Letang, Smid, Hamonic, Russell).
I guess my point is let's not get either too concerned, nor give up on Adam Larsson. He is only 21 years old, and he is still keeping some pretty damn good company in terms of NHL tenure at such a young age. To put things in further perspective, Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas are both in their age-22 seasons, and Gelinas will be 23 in May. Larsson begins his age-22 season next year. Alex Urbom, who is still trying to develop into an NHL player, is a full 2 years older than Larsson.
So, before we write off Adam Larsson, call him a bust because he has not yet developed into Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Victor Hedman, claim we don't need him because of the emergence of Merrill and Gelinas, let's not forget that neither Merrill or Gelinas had played even one NHL game yet at Adam's current age (21 yrs, 3 months). Not one game. This is why I will say something that, until this season, probably went without saying.
The Devils should absolutely not trade Adam Larsson. I've seen among the fanbase a willingness to part with Larsson in fictitious trade proposals far too easily, and I feel this is merely because there is a perception that he's either some kind of bust, or the Devils don't need him anymore because of the other prospects in the system. This couldn't be further from the truth. The emergence of Gelinas and Merrill should have no impact on the long term plans for Adam Larsson. Perhaps Devils fans have expected too much too soon out of such a young player, brand new to North American hockey. Perhaps Larsson himself added to those expectations through his jump right into the NHL.
Either way (and including this recent stint in Albany), Larsson is doing just fine for a player of his age. I do believe that Larsson will be back in New Jersey before this season is over. I'm not sure exactly when, but I think that a part of the reason he remained in Albany the past few weeks is so he could play through the Olympic Break. It's very possible we could see him soon after, provided he is doing well (I haven't seen any Albany games). Even if he stays in Albany for the remainder of the year, or most of it, it wouldn't impact my outlook at all for this player. I think that with a little work on his skating during the off-season, Larsson can take a pretty big leap forward in his development next year. I feel confident in saying that he will make an impact on the Devils blue line for years to come. Next time we do our top 25 under 25 list, my number #1 will be the same as it was this past season - Adam Larsson.