Adam Larsson and the Edmonton Oilers

At no fault of his own, Adam Larsson was put in an awfully difficult position to start his Edmonton Oilers career.  Though any reasonable fan, media member and student of the game would never view the rugged rearguard as fair value for Taylor Hall, one has to remove that part of the equation in order to fairly judge his performance. On its own merit, the trade is a fail every single time for the organization but the 25-year old has managed to deliver exactly what should have been expected of him.

Adam Larsson, Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton Oilers defenceman Adam Larsson (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

As the defensive conscience of the Oilers top pairing and legit No. 3 defenceman at this level, albeit with obvious limitations in his game, it is hard to take issue with what Larsson has provided during his tenure in Orange and Blue. Yes, his first pass isn’t great and by no means does he excel at transitioning the puck up ice. However, the fourth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft has brought some much-needed stability to Edmonton’s backend.

Upgrade the Defence

Prior to his arrival from the New Jersey Devils, this roster had no one that remotely resembled a shutdown defenceman at the end of the 2015-16 campaign.  Though a good number of fans and local media seemed to have no real inkling as to what type of player Larsson was, his “take-no-prisoners” approach was a breath of fresh to many in this marketplace. After years of being pushed around in their own end of the rink, this team finally had a blueliner who was willing to engage physically and actually still play at an NHL level.

Add to that a “calmness” in his game that seems to always be present, an ability to eat major minutes on a nightly basis and Larsson instantly became an anchor on the backend. As an added bonus, his presence appeared to coincide with Oscar Klefbom taking the next step in his development. Though as a tandem they took a step back in 2017-18, much of that can be attributed to injury, off-ice issues, some bad luck and a roster that featured many key pieces having difficult campaigns.

Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom
Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Let’s face it, this past season wasn’t pretty and outside of Connor McDavid, there wasn’t a single Oilers player who saw regular duty who didn’t have their share of ups and downs. Larsson looked downright awful to start the season and while many pointed to his partner as the problem, it was a joint effort. With that said, both were battling injuries but on a team already playing shorthanded due to Peter Chiarelli’s unwillingness to bring in a viable replacement in for Andrej Sekera, they were forced to play through them.

Larsson would eventually be placed on injured reserve in December and miss eight games due to the always popular “upper-body” ailment. Upon his return to action, there were signs of him starting to regain his usual form but he would once again be thrown a curveball, albeit on a far more personal level and important in nature. Dealing with the death of a parent is never easy but for a son to lose his father out of the blue, while he was visiting and watching his boy play the game they both love, had to have been extra gut-wrenching.

Dealing With Everyday Life

That is the exact predicament Larsson and his family found themselves in with the sudden passing of his father Robert on February 1, 2018, after having suffered a heart attack seven days prior. In the blink-of-an-eye, a slow start to a season for both the club and player no longer mattered. As is the case on far too many occasions, real-life has a nasty habit of jumping up and jolting us from time to time. An unthinkable situation to be sure and one that could not have been easy to stomach and remain focused on the task at hand.

To his credit, after taking a three-week hiatus to be with his family and properly mourn their loss, Larsson returned to action and easily played his finest hockey of the season over the final quarter of the campaign. An inspiring feat to be sure and one that says quite a bit about the individual and his ability to both cope and overcome adversity. What made his performance all the more impressive, is it came with the Oilers out of the playoff mix and little to play for.

With that said, it likely came as no surprise to the players and coaches inside the dressing room, as Larsson wasted little time in taking on the role of a leader and favourite amongst teammates from the moment he arrived on the scene. Again, trade value aside, no one can question whether or not he has been a good fit both on and off the ice. The answer to that question is a resounding yes and the organization cannot have asked for much more from the player. It is all about making an impact and he has held up his end of the bargain.

It’s All About Perseverance

Where things tend to get hazy in judging Larsson full impact, is when some point to his arrival as the main reason for the team’s turnaround. Though he certainly played a part, what gets ignored by most when examining the 2016-17 season, is the Oilers essentially added four NHL calibre defencemen to their roster from the year before. Let’s not forget, the blueline they closed out 2015-16 included players who had no business being on an NHL roster.

Edmonton Oilers, Connor McDavid
Oilers’ McDavid, Draisaitl, Lucic celebrate during 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

Bringing Larsson on board helped a ton but so did Matthew Benning and Kris Russell. And that doesn’t even take into account the biggest addition of all, a healthy Klefbom. When you add those players into the equation, include what will likely go down as a career-year for Cam Talbot in between the pipes, the maturation of Leon Draisiatl and McDavid, mix in a ton of good luck and suddenly you have the makings of what became a 103-point campaign.

It was a collective effort to be sure but one that was spearheaded by a red-hot goalie and the first full season from arguably the best player to come into the league in 30 years. That doesn’t change the impact Adam Larsson has had on the Edmonton Oilers but it should be kept in mind when narratives are brought to the table that don’t exist. Again, trying to rationalize a poor trade serves no purpose but giving a player his due makes perfect sense and that is exactly what he deserves.

Also available from Rob Soria: 

Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One