2016-17 Edmonton Oilers: No. 6 RD Adam Larsson
The Edmonton Oilers gave up a lot to add Adam Larsson to their team; possibly even too much. Nevertheless, there is no denying the fact that Larsson is a valuable player who fills a position of dire need for the Oilers cheaply and effectively and for a long time to come.
It’s important to separate the player from the acquisition cost. Regardless of whether you feel Taylor Hall was an elite even-strength player and a massive overpay, or that 200 hypothetical hockey men would all unanimously agree that the Larsson trade was a win for Edmonton, the trade was entirely outside of the defenceman’s control.
What has been inside the defenceman’s control is his play, which went more-or-less as expected.
When Larsson was acquired, there was hope among some fans that he was a late-bloomer offensively. GM Peter Chiarelli himself sent mixed signals, stating repeatedly in his post-acquisition press conference that the defenceman “had more skill to show” before ultimately declaring, “he’s not a sexy defenceman.”
Where that hope existed, it was misplaced. Larsson didn’t get power play minutes, and delivered roughly what he always does at even-strength, collecting 19 points on the season.
The offence was a hope. The defence was an expectation, and there Larsson delivered. Projected as a matchup defenceman who could start a lot of shifts in the defensive zone and against talented opponents, he did just that. As a bonus, he brought some welcome snarl to confrontations along the boards and in front of the net.
It’s worth taking a moment here to go into Larsson’s plus/minus. Larsson was plus-24 on the season, which for a certain type of analyst is a good place to stop looking and declare victory. But the real story is told when we delve into that number.
Larsson was a 50 percent Corsi player and 51 percent Fenwick player at even-strength. In either case that puts him at right about the team average in terms of puck possession, which is a formidable achievement for a player in a tough minutes role. He did well regardless of partner; very well with Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera, passably so with Kris Russell, while playing tough minutes in each.
Plus-24 is not a “good in a tough minutes role” number, though. That’s an elite number, a play-driving number. It’s also misleading. Edmonton’s save percentage, which might potentially be attributable to Larsson’s presence dipped (very slightly) when he was on the ice relative to when other defencemen were. The team’s shooting percentage, on the other hand, exploded, and as a result Edmonton scored more than 3.0 goals per hour when he was on the ice. The only Oilers with a better number were Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon, the team’s top line for much of the year.
Given Larsson’s modest offence, it’s difficult to attribute this ridiculous offence to him, and if it wasn’t attributable to him it seems likely that his on-ice goal numbers will fall more in line with his on-ice shot metrics next season.
That would be perfectly alright, though. All the Oilers need from Larsson is for him to be part of a pairing that wins battles in the most difficult minutes. He does that. He’s only 24 and signed for four more years at a modest cap hit, so he’s a long-term solution in that role. Edmonton needed a right-shot defenceman who could play those minutes and now they have one.
Bottom line: Love or hate the trade that brought him to Edmonton, Larsson did a good job in a tough assignment in 2016-17 and should continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Previous year-end reviews:
- Edmonton may just be stuck paying Mark Fayne for another year
- Should the Oilers give Kris Russell a long contract extension?
- Andrej Sekera brings much-needed versatility and experience to a young Edmonton blue line
- Laurent Brossoit could be the perfect backup for the Oilers, if he survives expansion