Tuesday’s nights game between the Ottawa Senators and the Nashville Predators will be a chance for two of the best offensive-minded defensemen in the league to battle each other.
One is known by many, including casual fans, as one of the dynamic offensive-defenders in the league, and that is the Senators’ Erik Karlsson. His explosive speed, playmaking ability and great shot have electrified fans and led him to the Norris Trophy in 2012 and 2015.
The other has a lot of the same skills, but is not that well-known to NHL fans. Roman Josi has done it in the anonymity of Nashville, but is starting to get on the shortlist of best defensemen in the league. He has done it on the international stage at the World Championships, and should have been nominated for the Norris after last season’s performance. He’s looking to build on his solid 2014-15 season as he has three goals and seven assists so far this season.
Tuesday’s game at the Bridgestone Arena will provide another chance to see how close the comparison between the two really is.
Josi: The Roman Emperor
The Swiss defenseman has been one of the best blue-liners that you’ve never heard of. Josi has been praised by Philadelphia Flyers defenseman and countryman Mark Streit, who first teamed with on the Swiss side in the 2009 IIHF World Championships.
“You could tell that he’s going to be a really good player,” Streit said in an article for The Canadian Press.
He’s been compared before to Karlsson quite a few times because of a remark that former Predators coach and current Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz said in March.
“A guy like Roman Josi is probably the Erik Karlsson of the Western Conference,” the Washington Capitals’ coach said. “Like Erik Karlsson, he’s got to be watched because he likes to carry the mail, he’s part of the offence, he’s dynamic. … He’s going to be, just as Shea is over there, a Norris Trophy candidate for the next number of years.”
Trotz’s assessment of Josi’s game is a very astute one, especially after seeing this end-to-end rush like the one he pulled off at the 2015 Worlds in the quarterfinals against Team USA.
That play showed exactly why Josi is drawing comparisons to Karlsson. He showed great skating ability, impressive stickhandling and a quick shot that is getting people to notice him in a market like Nashville.
He’s been known on the world stage as he was the most outstanding player of the 2013 World Championships that shockingly made the gold medal final before losing to host Sweden. However, Josi has only recently on the minds of casual North American hockey fans.
Josi had a solid 2013-14 campaign with 13 goals and 27 assists, but last season was when the Bern, Switzerland native broke out with 15 goals and 40 points. Many thought Josi would be a candidate for the Norris Trophy, but did make the final cut of Karlsson, P.K. Subban and Drew Doughty.
While Josi is slowly gaining the respect of fans and peers, Karlsson is still one of the benchmarks for offensive-minded blue-liners in the league. He’s a game-changer for the Senators that can use his speed and join the rush any time he’s on the ice. He can stickhandle his way from the back and free up his teammates with his great passes.
Karlsson may not have any goals as of yet, but he’s still been a big part of the offense with 12 assists for Ottawa as of Nov. 9. He may not be finding the back of the net, but Karlsson finds ways to find his teammates on the ice. Karlsson on the power play is a scary sight because of his great shot, puck movement and vision. It’ll only be a matter of time before the Swede starts scoring goals.
Some may question Karlsson’s defensive game, but he’s much better than he’s given credit for. His speed allows him to take more chances. Josi also gets some stick for his defense, but he’s pretty good and has a great partner in Nashville captain Shea Weber.
These two players have very similar skill sets, and are valuable members of their respective teams. They have so much in common from their skills, the way they play the game and age. (Karlsson is only one day older than Josi.) Everyone knows who Karlsson is, but everyone will know Roman Josi if he keeps playing at an elite level.
Covered hockey since attending SUNY Oswego in Upstate New York in the early 2000s. Has written about college, major junior and professional hockey for the last five years.
Resides in Watertown, NY.