Devils sign top pick Adam Larsson to three-year entry level deal; Will he play in NHL this year?

Not since 1991 and Scott Niedermayer have the Devils had a top prospect defenseman come along with as much hope and hype as 2011 top pick Adam Larsson has. Larsson was the top defensive prospect in the draft and when the Oilers, Avalanche, and Panthers all passed on him Devils GM Lou Lamoriello was more than happy to grab him fourth overall. Now they’ll get to see what they’ve really got on their hands as the Devils have signed Larsson to his three-year entry level contract.

The Devils had a bit of a time crunch to get a deal done with Larsson now as if he made it past 5 p.m. ET today, his contract with his Swedish pro team would’ve kicked in meaning the Devils would’ve had to pay out to bring him over. Instead, he signs his three year contract and avoids both costing the Devils extra money and potentially spending one more year in Sweden.

The other unique thing about Larsson’s deal is that it comes without the usual bells and whistles of performance bonuses that you see in draft pick entry level deals. Those bonuses, regardless of what they are, are included as part of the salary cap hit for the player and it helps the Devils out immensely to have Larsson agree to signing without those kickbacks. Larsson’s salary cap hit for the three seasons he sees time in the NHL will be $925,000. Larsson’s agent J.P. Barry says the deal is unique for a top ten pick.

“Everything is maximum except obviously he doesn’t have individual ‘A’ bonuses,” Barry said.

Barry said he’s never previously had a top 10 pick not have an individual bonus package as part of his entry-level contract.

“We’ve had several players in the top 10 and we’ve always had bonuses packages and even into the top 20 in many instances,” Barry said. “That’s the way the system is designed. At the same time, Lou has never given individual bonuses at any time. Obviously, the difference here is he’s never really had a top pick (since the entry-level cap system was put in place).”

 

Larsson joins a Devils team that’s in need of a solid, puck moving defenseman that can play great at both ends of the ice. Fortunately for New Jersey, Larsson fits the bill to be one of those players and they might need him to be that right away. Taking a look at the Devils defense for the upcoming season, one thing they’re severely lacking in is high-end talent.

New Jersey has Anton Volchenkov, Andy Greene, and Henrik Tallinder penciled in as their top three defensemen. With guys like Colin White, Mark Fayne, Jay Leach, and a still hurting Bryce Salvador filling out the roster for now that’s a very blue collar and not overly gifted set of players.

With the sort of game Larsson can bring to the ice, the Devils can get that solid two-way play they’ve been missing since Scott Niedermayer left town. While Larsson didn’t put up big offensive numbers, he’s got the skills to do well there as a pro and Hockey’s Future believes he’ll be a top pair defenseman in the NHL. While Larsson likes to look up to Nicklas Lidstrom (what Swedish defenseman doesn’t?) if he can make fans in New Jersey start thinking of Niedermayer, he’ll be a favorite there for a long time to come. For now, he’ll have to prove himself in training camp to see if he can earn a spot on the team.

While the Devils don’t have a head coach yet, if there’s anything we’ve learned during Lamoriello’s years running the Devils it’s that nothing is given, everything is earned. If Larsson can earn his spot in the NHL right out of camp, it’s doubtful he’ll be giving it up any time soon.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.