A Decade of Dominance: Erik Karlsson

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After three weeks of wearing the different colors of the rainbow, Erik Karlsson is finally donning the red, black and white. The Senators superstar defenceman is making his return five games into the season, after having ankle surgery in the off-season that removed half of his ankle bone. With his return the Senators aren’t just getting their best player; they’re getting one of the best defensemen the NHL has seen in the past decade.

The NHL does not lack superb superstar defenders. Bobby Orr, Nicklas Lidstrom, Denis Potvin, Ray Bourque. Those defenders have all left a footprint on their respective teams. For his play, his perseverance, and his dominance, Erik Karlsson deserves to be considered alongside these NHL legends.

A Decade of Dominance: Erik Karlsson

The Ottawa Senators drafted Erik Karlsson 15th overall in 2008. Few recall that the draft was in Ottawa that year. It was a confusing pick. Karlsson was a small defender who was believed to be a ‘garbage pick’  by a fan at the draft who told former Ottawa Senators General Manager Bryan Murray that. What do you think his thoughts are on Erik Karlsson now?

Karlsson didn’t make the roster straight out of camp. He was sent to his team in the SHL: Frolunda. He scored 10 points in 45 games that season. His stats definitely were not something that people jumped up for. Karlsson cracked team Sweden for at the World Junior’s championship that year and people quickly learned his name. He scored 9 points in 6 games for his team. Karlsson also came out guns blazing for team Sweden during other international competitions, scoring 15 points in 13 games.

The First Steps: Erik Karlsson

After spending a year overseas, Erik Karlsson came over to North America in the 2009-10 season. Once again he was unsuccessful in making the Senators roster out of camp. This time the Sens sent him down to their former AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators. Karlsson had a short stay in the AHL, playing only 12 games for Binghamton. He scored 11 points in 12 games, all of them were assists. The Ottawa Senators called up Erik Karlsson after the 12 games and he joined the roster.

Karlsson played 60 games, scoring 26 points for the Senators after being called up. He also scored 6 points in 6 games for the Senators in the playoffs that year. The following year in 2010-11 Karlsson scores 45 points in 75 games played and started to emerge as a legitimate NHL defender.

When Erik Karlsson Established Himself

During the 2011-12 season, Karlsson scored 78 points in 81 games and won the Norris Trophy. Following the 2012-13 lockout season, Karlsson came back from playing overseas and scored 14 points in 17 games for the Senators. In the 2013-14 season, he scored 74 points in 82 games, including a career high 20 goals. The next year Karlsson scored 21 goals and 66 points en route to winning his second Norris trophy.

In the 2015-16 season Erik Karlsson made it rain on the rest of league. He went on a tear and scored 82 points in 82 games – a point per game for a defender in the NHL. However, he didn’t win the Norris trophy once again, which stirred controversy among some in the league. This past season Karlsson scored 71 points in 77 games in the regular season. Karlsson also ranks fourth in all time scoring for the Senators franchise. He also had a career best playoffs with 18 points in 19 games. By far the best defender in the playoffs. In addition to racking up 71 points, Karlsson also dominated defensively – challenging those who suggested he was a one trick pony.

This past season Karlsson silenced his critics. Not only was a he a threat offensively the second he stepped on the ice, but he also excelled in his own end. Karlsson ranked second among all NHL skaters in blocked shots with 201. He averaged 2.61 blocks per game, and 5.84 blocks per 60 minutes. Does he play defence now?

Advanced Numbers on Erik Karlsson

Since the 2007-08 season (Karlsson’s draft year) to the 2016-17 season, Karlsson ranks second among all NHL defenders in points. Keep in mind, he wasn’t even an NHL player in 2007-08, and when he was drafted in 2008, he still spent a year in Sweden. Karlsson ranks first in points per game though with 0.82 and sixth in power-play points. Fifth in game winning goals. Ever since the 2009-10 season (Karlsson’s first year in North America) to the 2016-17 season

  • 1st in points among all NHL defenders with 456 in 556 games played
  • 1st in power-play points among all NHL defenders 177
  • 17th in power-play goals among all NHL defenders in the NHL with 26
  • 3rd in assists among all NHL defenders with 339

This is where it gets out of hand. Since the 2010-11 season ( Karlsson’s second pro year ) to the 2016-17 season, here are his rankings among all NHL skaters, not just defenders

  • 20th in all time NHL scoring
  • 7th in all time assists
  • 20th in points per game
  • 6th in power-play points
  • 3rd in time on ice per game with 26:33

An Electrifying Threat

Erik Karlsson has emerged as an elite defender due to his relentless scoring seasons. He has separated himself from some of the other great defenders in the league. His dominant play on ice has undoubtedly made him one of the league’s biggest threats on the blueline. Karlsson’s playmaking, speed and hockey IQ makes him the player he is today, and the player he will continue to be until he retires from the game of hockey. His style is pretty fashionable too.

Not only does he finish seasons with incredible point totals, he finishes seasons as the best defender of that season. It has been a long time since the NHL has had an offensive defender like Erik Karlsson and it will be a long time until someone like him comes in again. You can talk about Brent Burns, Drew Doughty and P.K. Subban but when it comes to Karlsson’s set of skills and game changing abilities, no one even comes close to him.

The second he steps onto the ice, he is a threat. You don’t know if he’s going to spring loose and do it by himself, or send a sky high pass to Mike Hoffman to bury it like he did in the 2017 playoffs. He’s spectacular 5 on 5 and possibly even more lethal on the power-play. His impact on the man advantage is relentless and unpredictable. He makes it look as he’s about to wind up but really he sends a no look pass to Bobby Ryan to put it into the back of the net, once again like how he did in the playoffs too. His speed and elusiveness is something that no other defender in the league consists of.

Karlsson’s Unquestioned Caliber

When Erik Karlsson has the puck, he’s plays like he’s all by himself with no opponents around him. He moves up and down the ice with it as if a string is attached to the puck and his stick. His technical skills are through the roof. He is privileged with extreme hockey sense, confidence and poise.

It might a long time until we see another player of Erik Karlsson’s caliber. He has yet to play a full ten years in the NHL, but he’s already cemented himself as one of the best defenders to ever step onto the ice. What can the next ten years hold for him is now the question.

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