In a 2010-11 campaign that was originally thought to be a disappointment for the New Jersey Devils organization can perhaps now be viewed as a blessing in disguise.
Thanks to a disastrous 10-29-2 start to their year, they finished as one of the hottest teams in the NHL but could only muster up a 38-39-5 record, which placed them as the 11-seed in the Eastern Conference. It was the first time since 1996 that they missed the playoffs.
However, the failure of a season had its upside as it was coupled with some luck in the lottery, and the Devils found themselves sitting at the No. 4 position in the NHL Draft Friday night. It was the first time since 1991 that they would draft as high as this, when they took Scott Neidermayer with the third overall pick.
There was a firm belief of who the top four players were before the draft began, so the Devils had some idea of who it was they would be looking at with their pick.
The general consensus was that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be taken with the first pick by the Edmonton Oilers – and he was. Then, with the second pick of the draft, the Colorado Avalanche selected Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers.
At that point, the Devils had left on their board both center Jonathan Huberdreau of the Saint John Sea Dogs and defenseman Adam Larsson of Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League. That was until Florida Panthers made the third overall selection, taking Huberdreau off the board.
The Panthers selection left Larsson on the ripe for the picking. He was the same prospect that many experts and analysts believed had the talent and potential to go No. 1 overall. He was passed on by the first three teams and had fallen right into the Devils’ lap.
General Manager Lou Lamiorello left no doubt in any spectator’s head that the organization realized what had just happened as he all but sprinted to the podium to make the team’s selection.
Immediately after the announcement, Pierre McGuire proclaimed during the broadcast on Versus that Larsson would be “the steal of the draft.”
A 6-foot-3, 197 pound defenseman is a native of Skelleftea, Sweden, Larsson has said that he idolized and shaped his game after Red Wings defenseman and fellow native Niklas Lidstrom. He is still a very raw talent at only 18 years of age, but he possesses all of the skills you want in a young defenseman – size, speed, accurate passing and a good shot.
The best part about this for the Devils is that Larsson will, at most, need only minimal polishing in the AHL before he makes his debut with the big boys. He is also giving the Devils what they have so desperately missed and was exploited last season – a two-way defenseman and a quarterback on the powerplay.
When you look at the history of the Devils and the defensemen they have lost along the way – be it Scott Stevens, Brian Rafalski or the aforementioned Scott Niedermayer – there is no doubt Larsson’s presence will be welcomed with open arms.
He is already drawing comparisons to Lidstrom because of their two-way style of play. And the bar was set for him by Nidermayer as he helped lead the Devils to three Stanley Cup victories. But these are both once-in-a-generation types of players so it is important to take a step back. He is a fine prospect but let him develop first before anointing him the next elite player at his position.
GM Lou Lamiorello is already approaching this subject with caution and told the Newark Star-Ledger: “It’s unfair to compare any kid to Lidstrom, (Scott) Niedermayer or Scott Stevens or any of the elite players like that. We’ll see how it works out.”