Adam Larsson Turning the Corner

by Eric Daoust on March 31, 2015
AdamLarsson

 

How Adam Larsson has stepped up his play in 2015 and what it means for the future.

 

The young career of Adam Larsson has been a frustrating one both for Devils’ fans and for fantasy owners. From a fantasy perspective, the results after four NHL campaigns have been poor to say the least. The former fourth-overall selection has frequently been a healthy scratch and as recently as last year played more games in the minors than he did with his NHL club.

 

Larsson is a classic case that shows the risk of over-committing to prospects in fantasy circles. Even in the top five there is a lot of risk in assessing their value. Not only are you trying to assess the player’s true potential, but also the development time. Some shallower leagues require immediate production from all players while other leagues give you a limited window to stash rookies on a farm roster. In both instances, a prospect that develops slower than expected can turn into a disastrous investment.

 

Comparables at the Draft

 

While there is risk that comes with any investment into prospects are not proven at the NHL level, there is a track record of success from other rearguards coming out of the draft. By comparing Larsson to other players drafted in his class (2011) as well as younger players selected in 2012 and 2013, we can see why fantasy owners are clearly frustrated if they invested heavily into an 18-year-old Larsson.

 

Player

Year

Pick #

GP

G

A

PTS

Adam Larsson

2011

4

186

6

43

49

Dougie Hamilton

2011

9

178

22

61

83

Morgan Rielly

2012

5

148

9

45

54

Hampus Lindholm

2012

6

152

13

50

63

Jacob Trouba

2012

9

125

17

33

50

Seth Jones

2013

4

154

13

37

50

 

 

In keeper leagues, there are teams that give up every year and decide to embark on a multi-year rebuild. Their team will sink to the bottom of the league for a while in hopes of cultivating many of the next rising stars. Unfortunately, many of the rebuilders from 2011 ended up with Larsson as one of their prized draft picks. It has clearly been a slow, painful process waiting to get a proper return out of that investment. But as we are going to see, Larsson has started to turn the corner of late and is finally playing like the high draft pick that he was.

 

2014-15

 

This season started out like the previous two for Larsson with a lot of time being spent in the press box. When he did play, his ice time was limited and the production across the board was very underwhelming. However, as soon as 2015 arrived something changed with Larsson. Almost overnight his ice time skyrocketed and he responded immediately. The chart below shows Larsson’s production breakdown in before and after January 1st:

 

Year

GP

G

A

Pt

+/-

PIM

SOG

PPG

PPA

SHG

SHA

Hit

Blk

TOI

TOI-PP

TOI-SH

2014

22

1

3

4

-4

6

23

0

0

0

0

21

31

16:35

0:02

3:02

2015

38

2

16

18

7

20

59

0

0

0

2

59

72

22:59

0:29

2:53

 


In 2014, Larsson was totally irrelevant for fantasy owners. He was a non-producer at the offensive end and his strongest stats – shots, hits and blocks – were not eye-popping either making him ineffective in all formats. In 2015, the improvement is universal. Most noticeably, his point total puts him close to a 40-point pace. This is helped by his ice time which is up about 40% and his shooting rate, which has gone from 1.05 shots per game in 2014 all the way to 1.55 in 2015. Beyond that, his other categories have shown significant improvement as well with his plus-seven rating, 20 PIM, 59 hits and 72 blocks offering an impressive total package of across-the-board contributions.

 

To take this to the next level, let’s take a look at how Larsson ranks among defensemen in various formats according to Fantasy Hockey Geek using just games from 2015. We will use four formats: points-only, Yahoo standard (G, A, +/-, PIM, GWG, PPP), the Dobber Hockey Experts League (G, A, +/-, SOG, PPP, HIT) and the UHL league (G, A, +/-, PIM, SOG, GWG, PPP, SHP, HITS, BKS, FOW) that features many prominent Dobber Hockey personalities.

 

League

D-Rank

Points-only

32

Yahoo Standard

53

Dobber Hockey Experts

40

UHL

17

 


These four leagues give an idea of the significance of Larsson’s recent play. In the vast majority of leagues that are not incredibly small in size, Larsson has become a valuable contributor. The sample size of improved play is large enough that we can feel a lot better about owning Larsson for a larger stretch of games. He has been greater than the usual waiver wire pickup riding a hot streak.

 

Fantasy outlook

 

For all of the ups and downs that Larsson has experienced at the NHL level, he is still just 22 years old. That is very young for a defenseman. His recent numbers show that he has arrived as a fantasy contributor. He may not always produce like he is right now but he appears to have emerged past the point of being considered a bust.

 

One factor that makes Larsson’s emergence even more impressive is his lack of a significant presence on the power play at any point in the 2014-15 campaign. As a result, he has not tallied a single power-play point all season. His points have come despite significant starts in the defensive zone and tough opposition.

 

With that said, the lack of power play opportunities presents a long-term concern. Without prime opportunities to pad the point totals on the man advantage, it is nearly impossible for a defenseman to reach the next level. Looking at the Devils’ distribution of power play minutes this year we can see a troubling picture in that regard.

 

Rank

Player

PP TOI/GP

1

Marek Zidlicky

2:37

2

Eric Gelinas

2:15

3

Damon Severson

2:13

4

Jon Merrill

1:03

5

Andy Greene

0:31

6

Adam Larsson

0:19

 

 

While Marek Zidlicky is now out of town, the other names ahead of Larsson are not going anywhere anytime soon. In particular, the trio of Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson and Jon Merrill is very young and offensive-minded. Given Larsson’s improvements at the defensive end, the Devils may opt to give the offensive minutes to the other young blueliners while leaving Larsson with more defensive responsibilities. That would leave Larsson as the #4 option at best, and possibly off the power play units entirely if the Devils opt to use a forward on the point. This could easily limit Larsson’s ceiling for the foreseeable future.

 

Final verdict

 

Putting aside questions about where Larsson’s offensive production goes from here, it appears as though he has reached the upper echelon of defensemen in certain multi-category formats. In particular, he will excel in leagues with a lot of categories. The more different categories you have, the less his lack of power play production damages his overall value.

 

Two scenarios can play out that will help Larsson maximize his value in the coming years. The more obvious outcome is the Devils trading away some of their emerging blueline talent in exchange for some help up front. This would allow Larsson to climb the depth chart and earn more power play minutes. The other scenario is that Larsson could emerge as an impact player at both ends of the ice and simply steal the minutes with the man advantage. As we like to say, the cream rises to the top and given Larsson’s pedigree and upside it is still possible that he could become one of the league’s special defensemen.

 

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Follow me on Twitter @DH_EricDaoust.