This will be the first time I focus on a former New Jersey Devils player who is still active in the league. I chose to put the spotlight on former fourth-overall pick Adam Larsson because of the journey from his draft selection to playing for the Seattle Kraken during their inaugural season.
It all began in June of 2011. Cars 2 was the No. 1 movie at the box office, and the world was introduced to Rolling in the Deep and, more specifically, Adele. At this point in Devils history, New Jersey’s defense consisted of Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder and Colin White.
Personally, I remember standing outside of Prudential Center when the Devils announced with the fourth-overall pick they selected Larsson. Fans erupted in cheers and they celebrated who they thought would be the Devils’ solution to the blue line.
Larsson’s Early Years in New Jersey
The 6-foot-3 defenseman’s first NHL goal was scored on Nov. 11, 2011, against the Washington Capitals. He finished his rookie campaign appearing in 65 games and registering 18 points, which led all team defensemen that season. The Devils made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final that spring and Larsson got an early taste of what it was like to compete for the Cup. His sophomore and junior campaigns were lackluster, and fans grew critical of his performance over the next couple of seasons.
“During his rookie season, Larsson immediately gained the Devils trust,” said Devils fan Justin LaSalle. “The next two seasons were tough on him, as bounced in and out of the lineup, and lost favor with coach Pete DeBoer. Once the team hired Scott Stevens, Larsson was able to build chemistry with Andy Greene, and those two became a really great top pairing.”
Larsson played 274 games in New Jersey over five seasons. He earned 69 points in a Devils uniform, but it became apparent he was not the player fans hoped for. It is a known fact that defensemen take longer to develop in the NHL, and he was taking more time than expected on a team that was desperate for a top defenseman. In June of 2016, he became part of an offseason trade that took social media by storm.
Larsson’s Second Chance in Edmonton
The only thing missing from the now infamous trade was Chris Harrison calling it the most dramatic move in offseason history. Twitter was in a frenzy when Bob McKenzie’s “one-for-one” tweet was published at 3:34 PM on June 29, 2016. Devils fans were overjoyed while Edmonton fans were left questioning what their general manager Peter Chiarelli was thinking. Regardless of all that, Larsson was heading to the Edmonton Oilers.
“He’s not a sexy defenseman,” said Chiarelli at the time of the trade. “He’s not in the spotlight. He probably doesn’t deserve to be in the spotlight. I can assure you, this last year, he has come into his own. He’s becoming a very good defenceman in this league. He moves the puck, defends well, he can log a lot of minutes — 25, 27, 28 minutes — he can match up against all the top forwards. He’s a player I watched very closely, and I can see his game trending up.” (from ‘Dan Barnes: In this edition of Oilers believe it or not, market for defencemen determines Taylor Hall trade to Devils,’ Edmonton Journal, 06/30/16)
Larsson’s first season playing for the Oilers was the 2016-17 campaign. He finished the season with 19 points in 79 games. Over time, Edmonton fans realized he didn’t have the offensive skills of a Roman Josi or Dougie Hamilton. His game shined defensively, and eventually he became the shutdown defenseman that he was expected to be.
Larsson spent five seasons in Edmonton and with an expiring contract, he had options — and the Oilers were there willing to offer him money and term. At this point he had solidified himself as a leader and key piece of Edmonton’s puzzle, and they did not want to lose him. The problem is Larsson did not choose to leave Edmonton because of money or term. His decision to leave was a personal one and it had everything to do with family.
A Necessary Change of Scenery with the Kraken
During his time in Edmonton, Larsson’s father suffered a fatal heart attack. His parents were in Edmonton at the time, and Larsson was practicing with his team blocks away when he heard the news that would change everything.
“It was tough on all of us,” said Larsson. “My family that were there when it happened. My sister, being there at that point.”
Larsson explained that it was extremely difficult for him to return to Edmonton and he had to make a choice that would be the best for him and his mental health. Enter into the conversation the newest NHL franchise — the Seattle Kraken. As far as looking for a fresh start, I don’t think it gets better than a brand-new team.
The Kraken used their pick in the Expansion Draft to select Larsson from Edmonton, and signed him to four-year contract worth $4 million per season. Prior to the start of the season, it was announced that he would serve as an alternate captain for the team’s inaugural season. He has appeared in Seattle’s first 10 games and has three assists. The Swedish defenseman has led all Kraken players with an average ice time of 21:17 minutes.
The 2021-22 season marks Larsson 11th season in the NHL. His development may have taken longer than expected, but Seattle is now reaping the benefits of having a solid, reliable defender on their blue line. The trade was out of his control, but when it came down to having a choice on where his career would continue he opted for a fresh start with Seattle.
This past offseason, fans saw general managers throwing money at defensemen in order to lure them to their team. It is refreshing to see Larsson make a decision based on what would be best for his mental health. Edmonton represents a place where tragedy struck the Larsson family, and no amount of money or term would shake that memory. The Kraken have a good player, and Devils fans wish the now 28-year-old nothing but the best as he gets the fresh start he finally deserves.