Since the departures of Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski, the New Jersey Devils defense has failed to provide much offensive support.
Adam Larsson could be the solution to those problems. The young Swede, ranked first among all skaters by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau, will be one of the top prospects in Friday night's 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Several mock drafts place Larsson anywhere within the top five picks. The Edmonton Oilers, who desperately need defensive help, could pick him first. The Colorado Avalanche also need some defensive help, and the Florida Panthers are desperate for some star power in the organization. Twenty-two different teams, including the Devils, interviewed him at the NHL Scouting Combine earlier this month.
Despite the interest, several analysts vary on their opinion of Larsson.
"Adam Larsson is a really good player, but I'm not so sure he's going to be that elite, No. 1 guy whereas I see Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as an elite, No. 1 center," TSN analyst Craig Button told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "Larsson is going to be [a] really good, strong player. He should play in your top or three no problem. But is he that No. 1? I'm not so sure."
"Larsson is going to be a top offensive defenseman," New York Rangers Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark told Gulitti. "If a team feels that their priority is an offensive power-play D, if he goes one, it's not a problem with me. I love Nugent-Hopkins. I wish I was picking there. But I don't think it's a set No. 1, let's put it that way, and they're very high quality players."
The defenseman spent the past two seasons with Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League. He made the team at 16, becoming only the 16-year old to play in the league. He finished this season with one goal, eight assists and a plus-12 rating. The team used him in a more defensive role, limiting his offensive potential.
Larsson has drawn comparison to Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. The Swede believes his style closely matches fellow countryman Niklas Lidstrom.
"Adam is one of the best skater's in this year's draft -- he has excellent speed and mobility," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He also has patient puck handling abilities and can surprise an opponent with a solid hit."
Larsson has one year remaining on his contract with Skelleftea, but can make the jump to the NHL if the team wanted him. He believes he's ready to take that step.
"I do," Larsson told Gulitti, "but we'll see what the teams think, what their plans for me are."