EDMONTON, AB - The participants of the Oil Country Championship Celebrity Pro-Am could not have asked for a more picture-perfect day on the course Monday. Sunny skies and temperatures hovering at 23 degrees.
As far as first impressions go, Edmonton was giving Adam Larsson quite the welcome.
The Oilers newest defenceman, acquired in a headline-making trade at the end of June, attended the event at Glendale Golf and Country Club and was welcomed by Oilers staff, teammates, fans and a media contingent eager to meet the new guy.
“It’s been a good day so far,” Larsson said. “I’m not a big golfer either, so it’s probably going to be fun to watch me golf.”
Larsson was being modest, shortly before launching a beautiful drive off the first tee. But perhaps more important than the round of golf was meeting his future teammates.
“My overall feeling is I’m very excited to be here, and I came here now in late July to kind of meet the players and the staff to get a feel and more comfortable moving forward.”
Feeling comfortable is something Larsson will attempt to achieve well ahead of game one of the regular season against the Flames on October 12. So, while he leaves for home after his day of golf, Larsson will return to Edmonton early to adjust more to his team and surroundings. And the team, and city, will have to adjust to him.
The Oilers gave up a big, familiar piece to acquire the young, on-the-rise, right-shot defender from the New Jersey Devils. Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli traded 2010 first-overall pick Taylor Hall, in exchange for the 23-year-old blueliner.
“We knew there was going to be change,” said Oilers winger Matt Hendricks. “We didn’t know who it was going to be or what it was going to be. When it was Taylor, it wasn’t a huge surprise to us. We just didn’t know which player it was going to end up being. We’re going to miss him. He’s a great teammate, great friend and he was a big part of this organization. But like everyone said, this is a business and we need to get better, and that was one of the areas. We needed to find a defenceman. I look forward to playing with Adam.”
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While the swapping of the two players is certainly headline worthy — and has garnered its fair share of analysis and opinion among media and fans — Larsson is unconcerned with the details or perceived pressure.
“It’s in the guys up top’s hands,” said Larsson. “I didn’t really put any thought into that. Obviously, it’s big shoes to fill but he’s a forward and I’m a d-man. It’s different. New Jersey got a real good player, and I’m happy to be here.”
Larsson has gained a reputation for being a defence-first, shutdown defenceman, although perhaps that description is likely based solely on his responsibilities in New Jersey. Paired with Andy Greene, Larsson was asked to neutralize the opponents’ top offensive players, which led to tough minutes. In Edmonton, Larsson hopes to explore the offensive side of his game, which could blossom given the team’s glut of young, offensive weapons.
“My first year in the league, I played a lot of power play. But now, these past four years, it’s been a lot of defence and penalty kill. Obviously, playing with Andy Greene and against (other teams’) top lines was something I took big pride in,” said Larsson.
“I think I can take even a bigger step. It was a lot of focus on defence last year and penalty kill. The next step is more offence and hopefully a little power-play time.”
In five seasons, Larsson has 274 games of NHL experience, plus five more in the playoffs. The 2011 fourth-overall pick took strides defensively last year, finishing second on the team in average ice time (22:30).
“I’ve always seen myself as a two-way defenceman,” Larsson said. “You kind of have to realize it usually takes a little longer for d-men to be where they want in this league. I didn’t really get stressed because I didn’t get the role I wanted. It takes time to realize you’re still young and learning. Jersey did a real good job for me.”
His first season in Edmonton will be all about taking the next step as an NHL defenceman. Monday was about meeting some of his teammates who will take that journey with him. The city did its best to make a good first impression on Larsson, while the player is trying to make a good one himself.
“I met him today. Great kid,” said Hendricks. “He’s kind of quiet, I’m going to have to shake that out of him a little bit. Really looking forward to him. When I had a chance to talk to John Hynes from Jersey over at the World Championships, he told me what type of player he was. I look forward to being his teammate and helping him get comfortable here in Edmonton and help turn this thing around.”