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Deploying Adam Larsson

Looking into how the Oilers might deploy the newest addition to the defence core this coming season.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Something to consider now is how defenceman Adam Larsson will fit into the Oilers in terms of pairings, deployment and match-ups. Judging by some of his underlying numbers, Larsson has performed as more of a shutdown type defencemen in New Jersey that starts a lot of shifts in his own zone, typically against the best competition.

To put Larsson's deployment in New Jersey into perspective, I've generated a player usage chart from Corsica Hockey to show how he measured up against his teammates last season at even-strength. The x-axis is the Zone Start Ratio (ZSR), which is the percentage of non-neutral zone starts that are offensive zone starts. The y-axis is the Time On Ice Quality of Teammates metric (TOI.QoT), which is the weighted average time-on-ice percentage of a player's teammates. The bubble size is the individual player's Time On Ice Percentage, which is the percentage of a team's time-on-ice played by a player. And the coloring of the bubbles is the indvidual player's Corsi relative to his teammates. (Source: Corsica Hockey).

Here we see that Larsson along with his most common partner Andy Greene did not spend nearly as much time in the offensive zone as their teammates and pretty much played with any of the forward groups. Should note that even though their Corsi Rel number (which captures all shot attempts) was deep in the red, the pairing was quite good at limiting the high danger shots and scoring chances (Source: Because Oilers)

The Oilers are obviously aware of their issue suppressing shots, especially those that are from the high danger area. Below is the rolling 25 game average for shot attempts and high danger scoring chances, for and against per 60, from last season (Source: War on Ice).

What we see here is that while the team was able to eventually start generating its own shot attempts and scoring chances as the season wore on, the team was awful from start to finish when it came to limiting the opposition. By the end of the year, the team finished 25th in the league when it came to shot attempts (Corsi events) against/60. And they finished 29th (!!) in the league when it came to the rate at which they allowed high danger scoring chances. So it makes total sense that they targeted someone like Larsson who can play top pairing minutes and have the ability to limit the shots against.

Having said that, I would not expect Larsson to play the same role he had as a Devil in Edmonton. McLellan and his staff mentioned a few times last season the importance of defencemen getting shots through, and for forwards to look for rebounds and second chances. I found last summer that the Sharks under McLellan relied heavily on their defencemen to get a higher proportion of the team's total shot attempts, a strategy that carried over to the OIlers defence core this past season.

And looking at the player usage charts for McLellan's last five seasons in San Jose (2010-2015), we see that the coaching staff did rely heavily on guys like Marc Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun to take on the tougher minutes at even-strength, but not at any sort of extreme.

While Larsson had a ZSR of 31.8%, McLellan's shutdown pairs in San Jose would get around 45%. This tells us that even though the defence might be considered a shutdown pair in San Jose, they were still being relied on for more than just suppressing shots and had to provide some contributions on offence. It also tells us that McLellan typically balances out the zone starts for defencemen across different areas of the ice, and there has never been a single defenceman taking on a one-dimensional role like Larsson had in New Jersey.

And in McLellan's first season in Edmonton, he relied on Fayne and Sekera to take on few offensive zone opportunities, with the pairing doing quite well playing tougher minutes.

Seeing the history McLellan had with his defence core deployment in San Jose, and in Edmonton this past season, I think its fair to say that young Larsson will be getting more offensive opportunities in Edmonton this coming season. I can't imagine it would be an easy transition for the 23-year old, so I fully expect some struggles in the early part of the season as he adjusts to the team's system. It will be interesting to see how McLellan and his staff break-in Larsson to play more offense, or if they do in fact rely on him solely for a shutdown type role, similar to what he performed as in New Jersey.