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Oilers secure their top-pairing, right-shot defenceman

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

EDMONTON, AB - As Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli stood at the podium to discuss his roster-shaking trade for Adam Larsson, in which he moved 2010 first-overall pick Taylor Hall, he spoke on a few key points. But one thing the manager was sure to say was that a need was addressed.

“It’s a need-based trade,” said Chiarelli.

For several weeks, Chiarelli was open and honest about his pursuit of a top-pairing, right-shot defenceman. That was seemingly job number one on his off-season to-do list. And Chiarelli feels he checked it off on Wednesday. The price was — as he admitted — big.

“In the last four or five months, I’ve been quite public in saying we’ve been looking for defencemen to shore up the defence and we’ve pounded the pavement,” Chiarelli said. “This is the price that you have to pay. It’s unfortunate with a player of Taylor’s calibre but we’re getting a very good player back.”

The return is the key for Chiarelli, as it fills the need he was focused on.

The manager moved a player with 328 points in 381 NHL games, one with first-overall pedigree. Larsson is still developing into an impact player at this level.

“It’s a significant trade for the Edmonton Oilers and for the New Jersey Devils,” said Chiarelli. “Obviously, Taylor has been a long-standing member here. He’s been a very good player here, and he’s a guy who leaves everything on the ice. I respect that.”

Chiarelli fielded questions on the immediate reaction to the trade and the compensation given up. Right now, the Devils get the more established NHL talent with the numbers. Larsson, however, could be a very good player in a big area of need.

“There’s a pedigree and there’s a label attached to certain players and they’re earned and Taylor has that. The player we acquired doesn’t have that, just by virtue of his development curve,” said Chiarelli.

“(Larsson) is a younger player, not by much, by a year. It’s a need-based trade. I feel very strongly about this player. I think he’s only scratched the surface. He was really excited when I talked to him. He felt the same thing.”

The Oilers were in need of a right-shot defender playing high up their lineup. Larsson is a player they believe has great upside, and one who — as of today — looks to slide right into their top pairing.

“Adam Larsson is 6-3, I think he’s 210 now,” said Chiarelli. “(He’s a) very smart player and it took him a little while to get going but he had a terrific year this past year. He moves the puck, he defends well, he can log a lot of minutes, he can play 25, 27, 28 minutes. He can match up against all the top forwards, he can move the puck, he has more skill to show also. It’s unfortunate in these deals that this is what you have to do. But I felt it was a player that I’ve watched very closely this year and I can see his game trending up and it was time to act on it.”

Photo by Getty Images.

Larsson finished second on the Devils in time on ice per game this past season (22:30). He was paired with Andy Greene as the team’s top defensive duo, matching up against the toughest competition and finishing +15 despite the tall order.

“He’s a very strong defender,” said Chiarelli. “There were games where we saw him, or that I saw, and he was at 25, 27 minutes. He plays against the top forwards. He’s got that element to his game. It’s a very underrated element of his game.”

Larsson has played 274 regular season NHL games since being taken fourth overall in the 2011 NHL Draft. At just 23 years old, Larsson expects to grow his game even more than he did last season and bring more offensive production.

“I played a lot of power play and all that my first year in the NHL,” said Larsson, speaking on Oilers Now after the trade announcement. “That’s pretty much all I did before I moved to North America. Of course, that’s a big part of my game. You’ve got to take it one step at a time, especially as a young d-man. You have to not rush anything. That’s what the coaches emphasized in New Jersey. They wanted me to play defence first. You have to respect that and do what the coaches want. Obviously, it’s something I want to grow into my game now. Defensively, I took a big step this year and that’s something I want to continue doing. But of course I want to be a big part of the offence too.”

Offensively, Chiarelli sees the upside in that area as well, especially when paired with the Oilers stable of young forwards.

“We have to have someone who can push the puck up to our forwards,” said Chiarelli. “This guy has that ability. He’s not your classic puck-mover, he doesn’t have the lightning speed that maybe people completely associate with puck-moving d-men, but he moves the puck quickly, he sees the lane quickly, he’s a very, very smart player, his skating is good and getting better, and he’s becoming a very good defenceman in this league.”

Larsson was surprised at first when he received the trade call. However, now there is excitement about a new home and new team.

“I bet I’ll fit in good,” Larsson said. “It’s an exciting team. I was in shock when I got the news, but my overall feeling is I’m very happy.”

Chiarelli says the team put in the work on multiple deals, zeroing in on them at the Draft. However, in the end, the team feels “fortunate” to get a player of Larsson’s ilk and the player he could be for them down the line.

“He has the requisite skill-set,” Chiarelli said. “He has the passion, he’s got the size, he’s got the skill… I believe in this player and he’s going to help us. The righty-lefty thing on defence is very significant.”
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