Todays SlapShot

December 22, 2015: New Jersey Devils defenseman Adam Larsson (5) takes the puck up ice during the game on Tuesday evening, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire)
Edmonton Oilers

Larsson has tall order in improving Oilers’ defense

Steven King/Icon Sportswire

With training camps just weeks away from opening, hope springs eternal all around the NHL, even for the beleaguered Edmonton Oilers.

Looking to shake off the past decade of futility and build something positive as they get ready to open a new arena this season, the Oilers made more notable moves in an effort to find a winning combination. The team signed forward Milan Lucic to a seven-year deal, but probably the most notable (and controversial) of their moves was their deal that shipped forward Taylor Hall to New Jersey in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson.

Hall is a player who was once expected to be a major part of Edmonton’s future.

He was selected first overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and made an immediate jump to the big club, notching 42 points (22-20—42) in 65 games played in his rookie year, which earned him Calder Trophy consideration. Hall’s game continued on an upward trajectory and during the 2013-14 season he notched a career high 80 points (27-53—80) in 75 games.

But since that season, he’s had to contend with injuries and some decreased offensive production while playing for an organization that is loaded with offensive talent but lacked much help along defense.

Using the conventional thinking of trading an area of strength to help improve an area of weakness, General Manager Peter Chiarelli made the decision to trade Hall on June 29 in exchange for Larsson.

Larsson, a native of Sweden, was once a highly-touted prospect in his own right. He was chosen by the Devils with the fourth overall selection of the 2011 Entry Draft, and like Hall, he too played in 65 games the following season with the big club.

He posted 18 points (2-16—18) with a plus-minus rating of minus-seven, averaged 20:37 of ice time and had an offensive zone start percentage of 47.1.

And last season he really started to round into the form of a top-four defenseman when he played in all of New Jersey’s 82 games, recorded 18 points (3-15—18), with a plus-minus rating of plus-15, an average ice time of 22:31 and a defensive zone start percentage of 69.1.

Solid numbers, indeed. But where does this leave the Oilers now, who traded away their leading scorer in three out of the last four seasons for someone they hope will raise the quality of the defensive corps?

With the exception of Larsson, Edmonton’s defensive core is essentially still the same one from last season that gave up 245 goals, the fifth most in the NHL.

28 February 2016: Andrej Sekera #2 of the Edmonton Oilers chases the puck into the corner against the New York Islanders during the New York Islanders game versus the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire)

28 February 2016: Andrej Sekera #2 of the Edmonton Oilers chases the puck into the corner against the New York Islanders. (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire)

Brandon Davidson is the only returning defenseman who played in at least 25 games and logged a positive plus-minus, while Andrej Sekera (minus-15 in 81 games played last season), Oscar Klefbom (minus-four in 30 games played last season), and Darnell Nurse (minus-13 in 69 games) all project to log key minutes along the blueline.

Larsson will certainly come in and make the group better, but how much better remains to be seen. There’s a chance that, with Hall’s absence, the Oilers’ offensive production could take a hit, which will put more pressure on the goaltending and the defense to shut down opposing scorers.

There’s also questions on whether Larsson is even that impact defenseman Edmonton has been in search of for a while now. When you size him up against some of the other impact defensemen in the Pacific Division that he’ll be going up against, the comparisons vary.

Arizona’s fellow Swedish defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson logged 55 points (21-34—55) with a minus-six, 24:46 in average ice time and a defensive zone start percentage of 51 in 75 games last season. LA’s Drew Doughty had 51 points (14-37—51) with a plus-24, 28:01 in average ice time and a defensive zone start percentage of 44.1, while San Jose’s Brent Burns notched 75 points (27-48—75), a minus-five, 25:52 in average ice time and a defensive zone start percentage of 48.8 in 82 games played.

Is it unfair to compare Larsson to this caliber of defenseman? Possibly.

But the stark reality of the situation is that he’s going to be going head-to-head with these same players this season and will need to post elite numbers to change the fortunes of an Oilers defense that has struggled in recent years.

Larsson has tall order in improving Oilers’ defense

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