Pete DeBoer expects to ice the same lineup Tuesday against the Flyers as he did in Saturday’s win over the Islanders. That means defenseman Adam Larsson won’t see the ice in either of the first two games of the season.
When asked today when he planned to start working in the players who sat Saturday, DeBoer replied, “We’re one game in. We played well. We won. I don’t know. I haven’t mapped that out particularly. I think how we play, whether we’re winning, is going to play a part in that and injuries are going to play a part in that.”
Corey GriffinLarsson’s playing time is going to be a big storyline this year. That’s unavoidable when a No. 4 overall pick plays 65 games in his rookie season (at 19, no less) and then enters the next season out of the top six defensemen. No one’s saying the kid lit up the world last year — despite shamefully leading the entire back end in points at 18 — but he was, at worst, a solid third-pairing defenseman who was learning the game. There’s no question he still has to learn a lot of the subtleties that come with being a top-4 defenseman in the NHL and, honestly, he might not even be one of the six best defensemen on the roster right now. But he is the one with the most potential and that’s why I worry about Pete DeBoer yanking him in and out of games all season. If you worry he regressed after the All-Star break last year (and he did) and his game hasn’t recovered, then why not demote him the same way John Tortorella did with Michael Del Zotto? That worked wonders, didn’t it?
Look, I understand DeBoer and Lou Lamoriello know more about hockey and developing players than I could ever hope to learn, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned watching sports my entire life, it’s that rarely does a young player get better by not playing. Larsson needs ice time, whether he gets it in New Jersey or in Albany isn’t relevant at this point. Would it be that big of a deal to see him down until Lou deals an extra defenseman for some help up front? I don’t think so.
Some of you might be saying, “It’s only two games! Relax!” and I’m not panicking or calling for an outright revolt on the Devils’ player development strategies (clearly, they’ve worked pretty well in a lot of cases, especially on defense). What I will say is that this will be a situation worth monitoring throughout the season. If the Devils deal a defenseman soon and Larsson got to sit and learn and watch for a few games, then this will all blow over. But if the kid plays in 30 games or less this year, I’ll have my doubts on whether that was the best course of development.