Young Karlsson has put together a season for the ages | Hockey | CBC Sports

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Hockey Night in CanadaYoung Karlsson has put together a season for the ages

Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2012 | 06:04 PM

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Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators has played so well this season that for some, he evokes memories of one of hockey's all-time greats: Bobby Orr. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators has played so well this season that for some, he evokes memories of one of hockey's all-time greats: Bobby Orr. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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There haven't been many NHL defencemen as young as Erik Karlsson to exhibit the kind of offensive skill from the blue-line position in a long time. In fact, there haven't been many recent NHL defenceman at any age to put up the sort offensive numbers that the young Ottawa Senator has checked in with this season.

Erik Karlsson is 21 years old - 22 on May 31 - and there haven't been many NHL defencemen his age to exhibit the kind of offensive skill from the blue-line position in a long time. In fact, there haven't been many recent NHL defenceman at any age to put up the sort offensive numbers that the young Ottawa Senator has checked in with this season.

Nicklas Lidstrom recorded an 80-point season six years ago, and Mike Green put together back-to-back seasons in which he reached 73 and 76 points a few years ago. But even Lidstrom and Green didn't run with the scoring lead among defenceman the way young Karlsson has done in his third NHL season.

With 18 games remaining on the Senators schedule, Karlsson already has amassed 15 goals and 66 points and has a whopping 23-point lead on the next blue-liner, veteran Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers.

It's an astonishing gap when you consider the point differentials among the one-two finishers in points among defencemen since the 2004-05 NHL lockout.

2005-06: Nine Nicklas Lidstrom (DET) 80 - Sergei Zubov (DAL) 71

2006-07: Two Scott Niedermayer (ANA) 69 - Sergei Gonchar (PGH) 67

2007-08: Five Nicklas Lidstrom (DET) 70 - Sergei Gonchar (PGH) 65

2008-09: Nine Mike Green (WSH) 73 - Andrei Markov (MTL) 64

2009-10: Seven Mike Green (WSH) 76 - Duncan Keith (CHI) 69

2010-11: Six Lubomir Visnovsky (ANA) 68 - Nicklas Lidstrom (DET) 62

Norris Trophy potential

Since his performance in and around all-star weekend the thought of Karlsson winning the Norris Trophy has picked up steam. After the month of February he just enjoyed, it would be a shock if he doesn't claim the Norris Trophy this season.

The Senators defenceman has put together an offensive season that the NHL has not seen from a blue-liner in some time. He may not surpass the 80 points Lidstrom recorded six years ago, but the Red Wings captain didn't finish among the top-10 scoring leaders like Karlsson has a good chance to do this season.

You would have to go all the way back to the lockout-shortened season of 1994-95 to find the last time a defenceman finished among the top-10 point producers. That was Detroit's Paul Coffey, who tied for sixth that season with 58 points in 44 games.

Karlsson, too, is tied for sixth in the scoring race with five weeks remaining in the regular season. He not only has a chance to finish in the top-10, but as a point-a-game producer he could better Lidstrom's 80-point season from 2005-06. 

Karlsson already has put together one of the top offensive seasons by a defenceman since the 2004-05 NHL lockout (Games played, goals-assists-points).

1. Nicklas Lidstrom 2005-06 (DET) 80 16-64-80

2. Mike Green 2009-10 (WSH) 75 19-57-76

3. Mike Green 2008-09 (WSH) 68 31-42-73

4. Sergei Zubov 2005-06 (DAL) 78 13-58-71

5. Nicklas Lidstrom 2007-08 (DET) 76 10-60-70

6. Scott Niedermayer 2006-07 (ANA) 15-54-69

7. Duncan Keith 2009-10 (CHI) 82 14-55-69

8. Bryan McCabe 2006-06 (TOR) 73 19-49-68

9. Lubomir Visnovsky 2010-11 (ANA) 81 18-50-68

10. Sergei Gonchar 2006-07 (PGH) 82 13-54-67

11. Lubomir Visnovsky 2010-11 (LAK) 82 12-54-67

12. Tomas Kaberle 2005-06 (TOR) 82 9-58-67

13. Erik Karlsson 2011-12 (OTT) 64 15-51-66

Karlsson is set to become a restricted free this summer. If Green, who also is a pending restricted free agent on July 1, is in the final year of a deal that pays him a $5.25-million salary, Karlsson will cash in.

Karlsson's agent, Craig Oster, revealed on Thursday that the two sides have not yet begun negotiations on a new deal. But you can bet Karlsson and Oster saw the remarks of Senators owner Eugene Melnyk when he discussed the Senators young defenceman a couple weeks ago.

"He can only get better," Melnyk said. "Over time, he can go down in history with the great defencemen of all-time. He is that good."

Young standout

Karlsson made his Swedish Elitserien debut three months before his 18th birthday. He made quite a splash when he scored the game-winner in overtime for Frolunda against league-leading HV71 with a slapshot off a face-off. He was returned to the Frolunda junior team, helped them to the Swedish title and then turned heads at the world under-18 championship.

Senators director player of personnel Pierre Dorion recalled that Karlsson was not high on the team's prospect list at the winter meetings, but all that changed at an under-18 international event in February 2008.

"At that tournament he always had the puck," Dorion said. "He was only 5-foot-10 and a little more than 150 pounds, but he had a lot of energy. He wanted the puck. He initiated. He left an impression."

A few months later, the 2008 NHL entry draft was held in Ottawa. The hockey world had just witnessed another Stanley Cup win by Detroit under Lidstrom's leadership. So the Senators decided to add their own Swedish blue-liner to the fold. They had interviewed Karlsson at the scouting combine in Toronto before the draft and few weeks later in Ottawa.

They liked Karlsson's understated confidence and didn't seem concerned about his lack of size. The Senators conditioning and player development coach at the time, Randy Lee -- now the Senators director of player development and hockey administration -- tried to ease general manager Bryan Murray's concern by predicting that Karlsson could boost his weight to 180 pounds or better with some time in the gym.

Karlsson is now listed at 6-foot, 180 pounds. But the smaller, lighter Karlsson was introduced to the Senators fan base at the draft at Scotiabank Place by trading up three spots to take him 15th overall.

Ottawa had the 18th overall selection. But the Senators front office got wind that the Anaheim Ducks, who had the 17th selection, wanted Karlsson. So Murray turned to Dorion and the organization's Swedish scout at the time, Anders Forsberg, who had only been with the Senators for three months, and asked if they were sure that Karlsson was the real deal. They both nodded yes.

Murray put his faith in them. He traded the 18th overall pick and their 2013 first-round choice to the Nashville Predators to secure the 15th selection. In a nice touch, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson stepped up to the podium to announce his fellow countryman's name as Ottawa's pick that evening.

Nobody could have predicted the kind of breakout season that Karlsson has enjoyed. He has benefited from a new coach in Paul MacLean, who urges his defencemen to jump into the play, and Karlsson's cocksure mindset has helped him swiftly skate to the top of his class.

"Erik has a charisma about him," Dorion said.  "He understands the game. He enjoys playing hockey. It's fun for him.

"I think you have to give credit to him for his hard work. He doesn't have a thick body. But he's lean and muscular, and he has put in a lot of time to get stronger. The coaching staff also deserves credit in how they have handled him. He's also meshed well with [his defence partner] Filip Kuba."

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