2011 Draft Class: Adam Larsson
Skellefteå AIK defenceman ranks 1st among European skaters by Central Scouting
Where that will be is still up for debate.
Although the 6'3", 200-pound blueliner has played in Sweden's Elitserien for three seasons and is under contact for next, Larsson is able to play in the NHL next season, but is prepared to make a decision based on what he believes is best for his long-term development.
"I'm undecided," he laughed. "Whichever team picks me, we'll see what they say. It's a big decision. It's a hard decision, because I'll be moving so far away from home and I'm still really young.
"It's my dream to play in the NHL. Once I get the chance, I'll make up my mind."
Chances are the 18-year-old will be playing in North America next season. With such a broad skill-set and NHL-ready attributes at his disposal, his addition would be an excellent boost to most pro clubs.
Naturally, Larsson's resume sparkles with the inside track he's acquired over the past few seasons. The Swedish Elite League is one of Europe's top pro stages with older, more experienced players making up the exclusive program.
Larsson has succeeded, accomplishing something that only two players before him have been able to lay claim to. He is only the third defenceman in SEL history to make his pro debut at the age of 16 (Calle Johansson and, more recently, Victor Hedman were the others).
All things considered, Larsson's tenure in the pro ranks has helped him propel to new heights as a blossoming NHL prospect. Doing so at home in Sweden has only enhanced the experience.
"I think I took some big steps this season," he said. "I try to learn something new every day. I'm playing with older men now, and it's been a great experience for me to learn from them. I always watch them in practice and listen to what they have to say. They're very smart."
Although Larsson's scoring totals dipped this season (1-8-9 in 37 games, down from 4-13-17 in 49 games a year prior), his sophomore campaign was underlined with several notable improvements.
His play away from the puck developed well, improving on his -7 rating in 2009-10 to +12 this year. An additional 28 penalty minutes showed that he was willing to play with more of an edge. Perhaps more than anything, age and maturity helped to round out his already masterful puck-handling ability.
Because of his all-encompassing development, Larsson participated in the annual World Junior Hockey Championship earlier this year. Although he was hampered with a hamstring issue, it was an experience that the skilled Swede described as "so much fun."
"I love playing on small ice," Larsson explained. "It's a different game. You have to change the way you think out there and I adapted well. I'm not too happy with how I played overall, but I thought making plays was easier, so I'm looking forward to playing on the small ice in the NHL.
"And of course, playing for your country is always fun!"
With the whirlwind 2010-11 season now behind him, Larsson is looking ahead to a busy summer of practices (two per day, in some cases) and other forms of preparation for his NHL introduction.
"I've got some good skills that will help me in the NHL," he said. "I play physical and play smart. I'm a two-way defenceman that loves to pass and make good plays, but I also take pride in my defensive game, too."
Larsson explained what he wants to improve on over the course of the summer to match his NHL heroes.
"I want to get better at everything. I want to get better every day," he laughed.
"One thing I really need to focus on is my shot. I need to work on that a lot, because I don't think it's very good. The guys [in the NHL] can shoot really hard, so I want to keep improving on mine to get to that level."
Although he understands that certain areas need to improve -- expectedly so for a young prospect -- Larsson is also aware that he brings a valued skill, heavily coveted across the NHL.
"I think my defensive play is pretty good," he said. "I'm a big guy, so I try to use that when I can. I hear people say I could play in the NHL next year because of that. I think so, too."
His connection to the NHL is already closer than expected. As Larsson explains, modeling his game after six-time Norris Trophy winning defenceman Nick Lidstrom has been a valuable learning process.
"I like to watch a lot of players so I can learn, but Lidstrom is the best. He's very popular [in Sweden]. He's a player that can shoot, pass and play physical. He's one of the best players in the league, so I try to play like him."
And while his connection to the NHL is strong, his ties to Edmonton may be even stronger. Depending on what the Oilers are looking for on the evening of June 24 in St. Paul, Larsson may get his wish.
"I talk with Anton Lander, Magnus Paajarvi and even Linus Omark all the time. They say great things about Edmonton and the fans there," he said.
"I want to go first overall."
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com