NHL

Erik Karlsson on track to reach several exclusive NHL marks

The Ottawa Senators won't compete in the playoffs, but fans have something, or someone, to cheer for. Erik Karlsson has an excellent chance to be the first defenceman in 30 years to finish in the top five in NHL scoring and the first since 1975 to lead the league in assists.

Senators D-man set to finish top-5 in scoring, lead in assists

With the Senators' season winding down, Erik Karlsson is approaching several scoring achievements. He needs one goal for 100 in the regular season over his career. He could also become the first defenceman in 30 years to finish top-5 in NHL scoring and first since Bobby Orr in the 1974-75 season to lead the league in assists. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Dave Cameron, who may or may not be coaching the Ottawa Senators in October, has four games left this season to evaluate the talent pool of his underachieving NHL team.

All-star defenceman Erik Karlsson, who is nearing a few scoring achievements, is one player the second-year bench boss doesn't have to assess.

Karlsson's 15th goal of the season in Thursday night's 3-2 victory over Minnesota gave him 99 in the regular season for his career. Wade Redden is the franchise's all-time leader among defencemen with 101.

The 25-year-old Karlsson also collected an assist Thursday to bump his point total to 78, matching the best in his seven NHL seasons.

The 78 points moves him to fourth in league scoring, two behind Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby for third, two ahead of San Jose's Joe Thornton and three more than his Sharks teammate, Joe Pavelski. Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov is seventh in NHL scoring with 74 points.

Should Karlsson remain in the top five, the six-foot, 175-pound Swede would be the first defenceman to finish that high in 30 years, since Edmonton's Paul Coffey was third with 138 points in the 1985-86 season.

No blue-liner has topped Karlsson's 78 points since Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom racked up 80 with the Detroit Red Wings in 2005-06, while Brian Leetch recorded 85 points with the 1995-96 New York Rangers.

With a 17-point lead over right-winger Mark Stone, Karlsson will top the Sens in scoring for a third consecutive season. Only one defenceman in NHL history has led his team four years in a row.

A year ago, the Senators captain took scoring honours with 66 points to Stone's 64 and in 2013-14 he posted 74 points, eight more than former team captain Jason Spezza.

Karlsson is also closing in on a 41-year-old record. Bobby Orr, considered by many to be the greatest defenceman to ever play the game, was the last to lead the league in assists, collecting 89 in 1974-75 when he captured the overall scoring title (135 points) and won his eighth and final Norris Trophy as the league's best defenceman.

Karlsson tops all players with 63 assists, five more than Thornton, while Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, the NHL's top point-getter, has 55.

"He plays the game the way it should be played," Coffey, who is second to Ray Bourque in all-time points among defenceman, told Postmedia in February, in reference to Karlsson. "The way that Karlsson plays is all hard work. … He wants to make an imprint on the game and he gets a lot of respect from me."

What makes Karlsson's season so spectacular is the fact scoring across the NHL is on the decline for a third straight season and at its lowest since the 2003-04 campaign.

Furthermore, the power play is usually the bread and butter for offensive defencemen like Karlsson, but Ottawa ranks 28th among 30 teams this season with a 15.4 per cent success rate and hasn't scored with the man-advantage in a franchise-record 14 games in a row.

Imagine where Karlsson's point total would be if top centre Kyle Turris didn't have his season end after 57 games because of a high ankle sprain. Or, if forward Clarke MacArthur, a 16-goal scorer last season, wasn't sidelined with a concussion for most of this season.

Karlsson might have several more points if the Senators spent more time near the opposition's net rather than allowing an NHL-high 32.7 shots per game through Thursday.

On Wednesday, Ottawa was officially eliminated from playoff contention despite a win at Winnipeg, and will not be a post-season participant for the fourth time in the last eight years. The Senators made it last year on the final day of the season, thanks to a 21-3-3 run.

It was not an award-winning season this time around, but in three months Karlsson might have something for Ottawa fans to cheer about: A third Norris Trophy.

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