Adam Larsson

Oilers defense suffers big blow with Adam Larsson injury

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It took exactly one game for the perpetual doom that seems to follow the Edmonton Oilers organization to show itself.

The team announced on Thursday that defender Adam Larsson is out for six to eight weeks with a fractured right fibula after suffering the injury during the team’s season opening win against the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday night.

The injury occurred in the first period, but Larsson was still able to play 22 minutes. The team did say the injury will not require surgery. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

In his absence, the Oilers have re-called 2018 first-round pick (No. 10 overall) Evan Bouchard.

Larsson’s presence on the Oilers has become a bit of a punchline over the years because he is the only thing the organization has to show for trading 2018 NHL MVP Taylor Hall. While that is certainly a bad look for the previous management team, it is in no way Larsson’s fault. All he can do is be the player that he is, and that player is a pretty solid defender. He may not be a superstar, but he is going to help your team when he is on the ice and he is probably the best defensive player the Oilers have.

The problem for the Oilers is that they do not have enough solid defenders on their blue line to withstand the loss of one of the few they do have. It does open the door for Bouchard to get an opportunity, but if the Oilers were fully comfortable with him as an NHL player at this point he probably would have been able to make this opening night roster to begin with.

Now an already thin defense gets even thinner, which means even more pressure for goalies Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Devils’ biggest question: Will their young defense measure up?

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One of the biggest questions for the New Jersey Devils heading into the 2015-16 season surrounds the youth and inexperience the club has on its blue line.

With Adam Larsson, John Moore, Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill and Damon Severson, New Jersey could have as many as five defensemen 24 or younger on the back end to start the season.

The Devils will expect more out of Larsson who signed a new six-year, $25 million deal last month.

The 22-year-old had a strong second half last season scoring two goals and 18 assists in the final 40 games after registering just 13 points in his previous 85 games dating back to the 2012-13 season.

“I think he’s only scratched the surface of the kind of player he’s going to be,” GM Ray Shero said per The Bergen Record. “There’s a reason he was drafted when he was. He’s got a lot of experience already. He’s played a lot of ice time on the (penalty kill) and 5-on-5. He hasn’t had the chance to play a lot on the power play, yet.”

Shero could also go out and add a veteran in free agency.

According to Generalfanager.com, New Jersey currently has over $14 million cap space.

With a plethora of unrestricted free agent defensemen available, perhaps Shero could add blue liner or two on a camp invite.

“We’re looking to be in touch with some (player) agents for some free agents. Or with some teams. Or maybe the possibility of a tryout with one or two guys in training camp,” Shero said. “Some guys are still trying to get contracts.

“There’s plenty of time there, but you’re always looking to see what’s there. And if it’s something that makes sense for us, we’ll jump in. If not, we’ll go into training camp with what we have and see what’s available after that.”

Goaltender Cory Schneider knows he’ll play a role in helping out his young blue line.

“We’re in transition somewhat, but (I’ll) hopefully be a calming presence and a veteran presence, even though I feel I’m a young 29,” he told NJ Advance Media. “I hope to put my mark on a franchise and organization and hopefully carry them to a Stanley Cup one day.”

Related: New Jersey Devils ’15-16 Outlook

New Jersey Devils ’15-16 Outlook

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The New Jersey Devils have finished in the bottom-five in scoring for three straight campaigns and once again their offense is a big area of concern.

No New Jersey player reached the 50-point mark last season and only two (Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri) recorded at least 40 points. Acquiring forward Kyle Palmieri in a trade with Anaheim over the summer does help matters, but offensively the Devils look like a long-term project that has only barely begun. Years from now, perhaps Pavel Zacha, who was taken with the sixth overall pick, will be a serious scoring threat, but for now New Jersey doesn’t have much in the way of young, NHL-ready forwards.

Stefan Matteau might establish himself as an NHL regular at the age of 21, but the 2012 first-round pick has never been a major contributor offensively. There’s always the chance that Henrique, 25, will take a step forward, but his career-high remains 51 points from his rookie season when he was working with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. There’s clearly no one at that level for him to play off of at this time.

The good news is that the Devils’ situation looks less bleak when you move past their offense as in contrast, the blueline’s rebuild seems to be moving along nicely. Adam Larsson took a significant step forward last season and the hope is that he’ll lead the charge along with Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill, and Damon Severson. The oldest of them, Gelinas, only celebrated his 24th birthday in May.

Then of course there’s their goaltending, which is in the capable hands of Cory Schneider. He demonstrated last season under trying circumstances that the Devils’ goalie situation remains their strength, even in the post-Martin Brodeur era.

Taking it all in, New Jersey isn’t without its strengths and upside, but until the Devils get to the point where they’re at least passable offensively, it will be difficult for them to make a serious run at a playoff spot.

It’s New Jersey Devils day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The New Jersey Devils.

The New Jersey Devils’ 2014-15 story is simple in that they were a team that couldn’t score often and therefore didn’t win often.

They did net six goals against the Philadelphia Flyers in their season opener and scored five times against Florida in their next game. After that though, they were credited with just 170 goals for over their final 80 contests.

The tragedy of it was that they wasted a great season from goaltender Cory Schneider. At the age of 28 (he turned 29 in March), Schneider finally entered a campaign as the undisputed number one goaltender and went on to post a 2.26 GAA and .925 save percentage in 69 contests. However, despite having the league’s ninth best GAA and fifth best save percentage, he finished in a three-way tie for 19th in terms of wins (26).

The Devils’ struggles led to Peter DeBoer’s dismal as head coach on Dec. 26 and he was replaced by co-coaches Adam Oates and Scott Stevens. The silver lining there is that 22-year-old defenseman Adam Larsson worked well under Stevens, leading to him breaking out after years of trying to find his way with the Devils. His rise helped accent the Devils’ promising young blueline, which also features Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson, and Jon Merrill.

Those defensemen provided the Devils with hope for the future, but the 2014-15 campaign itself was a disappointment as New Jersey finished with a 32-36-14 record.

Off-season recap

The Devils acquired forward Kyle Palmieri from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick and a 2016 third-round selection. They also added a player they hope will someday help solve their offensive woes when they took Pavel Zacha with the sixth overall pick in the draft.

Beyond that, New Jersey’s on-ice personnel might be similar this season, but the Devils have undergone a massive overhaul behind the scenes. The NHL’s longest-serving general manager, Lou Lamoriello, passed the torch to former Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero in May. While the original plan was for Lamoriello to remain with the Devils by retaining his other title as the team’s president, he ultimately decided to leave to become the Toronto Maple Leafs’ general manager.

Meanwhile, Shero brought in John Hynes to serve as the new bench boss. Hynes previously worked with the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, making him a familiar face to Shero. The new general manager also laid out the Devils’ three principles going forward: Fast, attacking, and supportive.

So while the Devils haven’t made many signings or trades this summer, a new era has begun.

Devils GM doesn’t want to make a big deal out of captaincy

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Really, it makes sense that the New Jersey Devils would prefer not to just throw the captain’s “C” on someone’s jersey right away.

It’s a time of transition for the franchise, with Lou Lamoriello making way for Ray Shero after decades of running the ship, along with John Hynes getting his first NHL head coaching gig.

Shero made it clear that there’s no rush to a captaincy decision, although he left the door open for it to happen as well, as the Newark Star-Ledger reports.

“If we didn’t have a captain to start the season, it wouldn’t mean we don’t have a leader,” Shero said. “Not at all. There are a number of teams with no captains. I don’t know if Columbus had one last season and, of course, Minnesota had rotating captains with Jacques (Lemaire). I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

As Shero notes, “we don’t know these players yet.”

Michael Cammalleri spoke of a possibly refreshing change of pace a couple days ago, also to the Newark Star-Ledger.

“The ownership group seems highly intelligent and highly sophisticated in their strategy. For now, let’s put some trust in that,” Cammalleri said. “Let’s (hope) they have a plan that will work.”

Where would you go with the captaincy role, if you had to make a choice today? Would it be a fading veteran like Patrik Elias, maybe someone like Cammalleri or even an up-and-comer such as Adam Larsson?

Looking at New Jersey’s options, it really does make a lot of sense just to wait.