Is John Klingberg’s Game Already at Erik Karlsson’s Level?

Going into Saturday night’s game against the Buffalo Sabres the Stars lead the Western Conference with a 16-4 record.  During that time, John Klingberg has continued to emerge as the dynamic catalyst behind the Stars prolific offensive attack.

The 23-year-old Klingberg has an insane 22 points (4g,18a) in 20 games, to go along with a +13 plus/minus rating.  He leads all NHL defensemen in scoring. Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson is second with 21 points. Last season as a rookie Klingberg had 40 points (11g, 29a) in 65 games and was a +5 plus/minus rating.

John Klingberg: A Young Erik Karlsson

Stars General Manager Jim Nill, teammate Johnny Oduya and others have already compared Klingberg to a young Erik Karlsson. Klingberg playing well isn’t a big surprise. Especially coming off last season’s debut performance which was worthy of Calder trophy consideration. The surprise is “how ridiculously well” Kingberg is playing. The only English he appears to struggle with is “sophomore slump.”

The comparisons to Erik Karlsson date back to Klingberg’s Frolunda HC days in Sweden. Both played for Frolunda HC prior to the NHL (Karlsson from 2007-09 and Klingberg from 2010-11 and again 2013-14). Both are extremely talented offensively and both are right-handed shooting defensemen.

As an amateur prospect, Karlsson, 25, was a more well-known commodity. He was drafted in the 1st round (15th overall) by the Ottawa Senators in 2008. Meanwhile, Klingberg, similar to Stars’ captain Jaime Benn (5th round pick) was a late bloomer. He was drafted in the 5th round (131 overall) by the Stars in 2010.

John Klingberg vs. Erik Karlsson Fancy Stats

Although Karlsson is a two-time Norris trophy winner, Klingberg is on par or ahead of Karlsson in many statistical categories. For example, according to war-on-ice Klingberg’s high danger scoring chances differential is +18 this season. By comparison Karlsson’s is just slightly better at +21.  However, when Karlsson was Klingberg’s current age in 2013-14, he had a -17 differential.

Next, we will check giveaways and takeaways. Currently, Klingberg has 5 fewer giveaways (11) and the same amount of takeaways (11) as Karlsson.  Also, going back to 2013-14 (when Karlsson was Klingberg’s age), Karlsson had a 115 giveaways in 82 games compared to just 70 for Klingberg in 85 career games.

Klingberg has been on the ice for a league high 284 unblocked shots attempts against this season. However, his differential compared to unblocked shots for is +23. Karlsson has a 256 USAT against and his differential is only +6.

Last season Klingberg actually absorbed more hits (165) than any other NHL player who played in 68 or fewer games. He is trending high again this season with 46 hits absorbed. Fortunately, despite those high totals, Klingberg’s hockey sense and skating ability usually allow him to avoid the full impact of hits.

On the flip side, Klingberg doesn’t dish out many hits (53 last season and 14 this season), while Karlsson dishes out about as much as he receives (14 and 22 this season; 122 and 130 when he was 23).

Individual scoring chances is an area where Karlsson has the edge. As a 23-year-old he had a 148 ISC compared to Klingberg’s 106 ISC in 85 career games. Karlsson also has a 36-26 edge so far this season. I would say the supporting cast and lack of supporting cast in Karlsson’s case also have something to do with Karlsson’s edge here.

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On the PP this season Klingberg has a ridiculous 9.31 points per 60 minutes. That is best among NHL defensemen who average at least 1:40 of PP time per game. Meanwhile Karlsson’s not exactly a slouch with a 4.62 P60 on the PP.

Both men are clearly workhorses as Karlsson’s time on ice per game is 27:05 while Klingberg’s is 23:23.

While it’s still early in the 2015-16 season, don’t be surprised if the John Klingberg and Erik Karlsson debate continues to grow. However, instead of comparing Klingberg to a young Erik Karlsson, the comparison might just decide this season’s Norris trophy winner.