Erik Karlsson: Likely to Wear the ‘C’ Next Season

Erik Karlsson Senators
If defenseman Erik Karlsson is named the team’s next captain, he would be the third European-born to wear the ‘C’ for the Sens. (Icon SMI)

When Jason Spezza was traded to the Dallas Stars on July 1st, 2014, a vacancy opened up for a new captain to succeed the Sens’ forward, and who better to lead the team than Erik Karlsson.

An unselfish drive for improvement

A big issue that fuelled Spezza’s departure was that he was unwilling to be a lightning rod for the Sens’ trials and tribulations. Unlike Spezza, though, Karlsson has handily weathered arguably the most critical fan base in professional sports – the Canadian media.

Ever since he broke into the National Hockey League in the 2009-2010 season, the Swedish-born defenseman has had a knack for putting up points. In 315 total games played thus far, Karlsson has registered 63 goals and 237 points. As well, he has been the highest scoring d-man since the 2010-2011 campaign, beating out the likes of the Winnipeg Jets’ Dustin Byfuglien, the Arizona Coyotes’ Keith Yandle, and the Nashville Predators’ Shea Weber – to name a few.

Although Karlsson is lethal in the opposing team’s end of the rink, he struggled defensively in the early stages of his career.

In his first two NHL seasons, he was combined minus-35. The following campaign, he added some weight and matured, which allowed him to improve to a plus-9 total over the course of three seasons – a number that isn’t spectacular, but an upgrade nonetheless.

The incentive to improve not only for himself but for his team are qualities that would make Karlsson an ideal candidate to lead the Sens.

Committed on paper

Karlsson’s contract will keep him in Canada’s capital for likely five seasons – three years with a no-trade clause and two years with a limited no-trade clause. Different from Spezza, Karlsson has never expressed his dissatisfaction with the team and he appears to be on really good terms with head coach Paul MacLean. The probability of him leaving the Sens before his contract expires is slim to none, which would give the d-man a longer captaincy shelf life than his predecessor.

The credentials of a leader

Karlsson’s on-ice play has been recognized on a variety of occasions dating back to his IIHF World Junior Championship stints. In 2008, he was awarded the Under-18 Best Defenseman honour. The next year, he was named to the World Junior all-star team and was once again credited as the tournament’s best blueliner.

Also, he competed in the NHL All-Star game twice (2011, 2012); was selected to the NHL First All-Star team in 2012; and won the James Norris Memorial Trophy for being the best d-man in the league the same year.

Tack on being credited as the best defenseman at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games, and what does all of this say about Karlsson as a player on and off the ice? At the tender age of 24, he already has a variety of hardware to give him respectable credentials. Yet again, another trait that would be valued in a captain.

“This kid has wonderful speed. Great, great hockey sense. He’s not big at all. Two games ago I looked at him and I thought, ‘Holy crap, he looks like a teenager,’ or maybe it’s me getting old. He’s not a huge kid, but he’s very intelligent and very smart on the ice.

“He positions himself well. He’s unbelievable and uncanny with the stick. He pokechecks, he’s got great reach and even just shooting from the point, he gets the puck on the net. “All the good teams that have won, they’ve all had that guy on the point: (Nicklas) Lidstrom, (Zdeno) Chara. In the old days with Robinson, Savard, Lapointe, Potvin and Coffey. He’s that kind of player. He is that important to the Senators.” – retired NHL d-man Bobby Orr about Karlsson. Ottawa Sun. Published: Mar. 17, 2012.

All that said, remember that NHL Hall of Fame blueliner and hockey legend Bobby Orr praised the Swedish olympian in ’12. That kind of endorsement rarely goes unnoticed and will stick out in the personnel’s mind when the Sens finally decide to stitch the ‘C’ on Karlsson’s jersey in time for start of next season.