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Devils' Larsson feels ready to play in the NHL

NEWARK, N.J. -- After surviving his first training session in a New Jersey Devils jersey, Adam Larsson found himself in an enviable position -- discussing the art of playing defense with three-time Stanley Cup champion Scott Stevens.

 

"He gave me a few tips; he knows best," Larsson said. "Of course, I'll listen to every single word he says. I look up to him."

 

Perhaps Stevens figured it was as good a time as any to offer some words of encouragement to the 6-foot-3, 197-pound blueliner, who hopes to earn a spot on the team's roster this season.

Following the morning chat, Stevens even gave Larsson a friendly stick tap on the seat of his pants.

 

Larsson's first day at Devils rookie camp July 11 certainly was not out of the ordinary. He made his share of mistakes and appeared tempted to do a little too much, but also exhibited positive signs with crisp passes, his work along the boards and skating in the neutral zone. As the camp progresses, he expects to get even better. Working with the prospects with Stevens, a special assignment coach, are New Jersey assistant coaches Larry Robinson and Adam Oates, and Albany (AHL) coach Rick Kowalski. Special assignment coach Jacques Caron and Devils goalie coach Chris Terreri instructed the goaltenders.

 

"This was my third time on the ice (since the conclusion of the Swedish Elite League playoffs in April), so it was tough, but it was fun and I'm looking forward to this now for many days and weeks," Larsson said. "I was also breaking in some new skates, so my feet are hurting a little bit."

 

The future along the Devils' blue line officially began in earnest this week, although many would say it started on June 24, when New Jersey actually picked Larsson with the fourth selection in the 2011 Entry Draft.

 

Larsson and his agent, Claes Elefalk, have yet to set the parameters of an entry-level deal with Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello, but it's in the works.

 

"We're working on it and hopefully we can get something done," Larsson said. "Of course, I want to start in the NHL, but I would play in the American Hockey League if that's where they wanted me to go. That would be great, too … it wouldn't bother me at all. If I go, I'll go and then I can play everywhere."

 

Larsson is under contract for one more season with Skelleftea in Sweden's Elite League; while that wouldn't keep him from beginning what is sure to be a prosperous NHL career this season, it's possible he would return there to improve his overall game. Elefalk wouldn't be surprised if that happened.

 

"Normally in most cases, we Euros think it's sometimes an advantage to stay one or two seasons (in Europe) after the draft," Elefalk told NHL.com. "It's a tremendous culture change but it's not unusual to see players playing in Europe stay there an additional year or two. Victor Hedman (taken No. 2 by Tampa Bay in 2009) was an exception, but we'll have to see what happens."

 

Larsson is confident in his ability, as he should be as the first defenseman taken at last month's draft.

 

"I feel I'm ready, but am still learning every day," he said of being ready for the NHL. "I think if I do decide to play in North America, I want to feel very prepared for it. I'll talk to Lou and see what his plan is for me, but of course I want to (play in the NHL) … that's my goal. If I get the chance, I will take it."

 

After arriving from Sweden on Saturday, Larsson had a chance to relieve some of that built-up anxiety by joining fellow countrymen and camp members Alexander Urbom and Jacob Josefson on a tour of Manhattan on Monday.

"It was a great time," he said. "We just hung out and I bought some new clothes. Knowing so many other Swedish guys will help me out a lot this year. It means a lot. Jacob has told me everything he knows."

 

At times, Larsson has drawn comparisons to a young Nicklas Lidstrom with his poise and patience. He battled minor groin and shoulder ailments last season, but never missed much time. He also represented his country at the 2010 and 2011 World Junior Championship, finishing as the team's highest scoring defender at this past season's tournament in Buffalo, N.Y., with 1 goal and 4 points.

 

He said the pressure and level of play at the Devils' rookie camp was similar to his WJC experience.

 

"Maybe the intensity is a little more over here," Larsson said, "but the strength of the players is the same. I try to learn all the things. I'm young and hopefully I can take something from this week.

 

"I felt OK out there. I put no expectations on myself since it was the first day. It was everything I kind of thought it would be; hopefully I'll learn more as the week goes on and I get used to it all."

 

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale