Let’s for a moment set aside the fact that the Oilers traded away maybe one of the top 5 offensive players in the league in Taylor Hall and lets take a look at what they acquired in Adam Larsson.
Adam Larsson was drafted 4th overall in the 2011 NHL draft so he was a highly regarded defenseman entering the league. He immediately started his NHL career and played the majority of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 (lockout shortened) seasons with the Devils with decent but mixed results. He was probably rushed to the NHL too soon. In 2013-14 he split time with New Jersey and in the AHL with the Devils returning to full time NHL duty in the 2014-15 season and hasn’t looked back since. In my opinion he has been quite good as a defender the past two seasons.
Usage – Zone Starts and Quality of Competition
As with most young players Larsson started his career playing in somewhat sheltered situations being given fewer defensive zone faceoffs and being lined up against lesser quality competition. In 2014-15 he was given more defensive zone face offs and last season it could be argued that he had some of the toughest usage statistics in the league. He was relied on heavily by the Devils to defend leads and play against the opponents top players.
|Season||CF60 RelTM||CA60 RelTM||CF% RelTM|
These stats don’t really scream stand out as being anything particularly special but in the context of his tougher usage in recent seasons they are actually pretty solid. He doesn’t seem to be great in terms of shot generation but he isn’t playing in offensive situations either.
For anyone who has followed me for very long, while I see some value in possession statistics I also feel they have significant limitations, particular for those that play highly specialized roles (see Weaver/Salvador, Phaneuf, Weber, Sutter etc.). Last season in particular Larsson played a highly specialized defensive role.
|Season||GF60 RelTM||GA60 RelTM||GF% RelTM||Sh%||Sv%||Sh% RelTM||Sv% RelTM|
What you will find interesting is his GA60 RelTM has steadily improved (lower is better as it implies fewer goals against). Graphically we see this quite well.
Save% RelTM and Zone Face Off Usage
In the above sections I have shown that Larsson has been given greater defensive responsibility and has in turn put up some outstanding defensive numbers. His outstanding defensive numbers are largely due to his ability to boost his goalies save percentage. I know not everyone in hockey analytics agrees with this idea but I absolutely believe that players that are asked to focus on playing defensive hockey do in fact show an ability to boost their goalies save percentage. Adam Larsson is no exception.
The correlation between Larsson’s Sv% RelTM and his OZone% is -0.65.
The correlation between Larsson’s Sv%RelTM and his average opponents GF% is 0.71. As Larsson was given more defensive roles his save percentage improved. Of course, in the process of becoming a defensive specialist his offensive production has diminished some. That is the nature of the beast. On the flip side some of the best offensive defensemen have poor Sv% RelTM’s (last 2yrs Karlsson is -2.2, Subban is -1.1, Burns is -1.0, Letang is -0.9). It is a trade off as very few defensemen are excellent at both end of the rink.
To conclude, I believe the Oilers may have picked up a real good defensive defenseman, maybe one the leagues best (still a bit early to say that yet). I look at a guy like Hjalmarsson in Chicago. He doesn’t get all the accolades of Toews, Kane, Keith or even Seabrook but he is an incredibly valuable players on that team an done of the best defensive defensemen in the league. If the Oilers get this in Larsson they will be filling a much needed and an incredibly important role. Is that worth Taylor Hall? Almost certainly not but Larsson could be an incredibly important player for them for the next decade and guys like him don’t grow on trees either.