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Oilers betting big on Larsson

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The Edmonton Oilers finally shook up their core and dealt for help on defence.

The Oilers sent former No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall to New Jersey in exchange for 23-year-old Adam Larsson—the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft.

It was long thought the Oilers would deal at least one longstanding core piece—Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins leading the speculation—to beef up a blueline that’s wobbled through a string of empty seasons.

In the end, the Oilers’ rebuild that started with the drafting of Hall in 2010 will continue without him.

“I spoke with Taylor about the trade earlier today and he was very disappointed,” said Oilers’ general manager and president of hockey operations Peter Chiarelli.

“[He] felt that he was part of the solution, and I didn’t disagree with him,” Chiarelli noted.

“I just said this is a business, you have to make hard decisions.

“My roots aren’t as deep in this organization as Taylor’s so I respect his emotion,” he added.

“I’ve always respected his play and his competitiveness, and he’ll have a real good career going forward.”

Hall admitted he was caught off-guard by the news.

“It’s tough,” an emotional Hall said in a conference call. “I have a pretty deep connection to the city of Edmonton.

“I felt I did everything I could there so it’s pretty hard not to feel slighted, not to feel a little disappointed with the way everything shook out,” he admitted.

“That’s hockey.”

What seemed to bother Hall most was that he felt the trade focused the blame on him for the team’s losing seasons.

Hall said he expressed his disappointment to Chiarelli after being informed of the trade.

“I don’t want to sound like I am not excited to join New Jersey,” Hall stressed. “That’s not the case.

“[But] I’m a proud person and I take this as an indictment of me as a hockey player. I don’t think there is any other way to treat it.

“I think it’s safe to say I am a very motivated player right now.”

The Oilers paid a high price but the need for an improved blueline was evident in Edmonton.

The Oilers have missed the playoffs in 10-straight seasons, last appearing in 2006.

And the club remained one of the league’s worst defensively last season despite stability in goal with first-year starter Cam Talbot.

Stocked with young forwards, including Connor McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi, the surprise fourth overall pick at last week’s draft, the Oilers could afford to part with Hall.

The club is gambling, though, on the future of Larsson—a large, easy-skating defenceman who’s yet to find a groove in the NHL.

Larsson entered the league as a 19-year-old, mostly stumbling through his first five NHL seasons.

He’s not produced much offence (his career-high is 24 points in 64 games) and owned anemic-looking puck possession numbers last season while notably starting a majority of shifts in the defensive zone.

Chiarelli preferred to look at Larsson’s upside yesterday.

“It took him a while to get going but he had a terrific year this past year,” Chiarelli said.

“He moves the puck, he defends well, he can log a lot of minutes.”

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