Only 21, Erik Karlsson has blossomed into the NHL’s best offensive defenseman. (JC Salas/Icon SMI)
By Stu Hackel
It’s a bit too early to say whether Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson will be one of the NHL’s three Stars of the Week next Monday — and because it will be trade deadline day, who is even going to notice? — but he’s got a great head start with seven points in his last six periods of play. With his goal and two assists in Ottawa’s 5-2 win over Washington on Wednesday night, Karlsson leads all NHL defenseman in scoring with 60 points — 20 more than his closest pursuer, Florida’s Brian Campbell.
Karlsson’s 47th assist on Wednesday set a new Sens franchise record, breaking Norm Maciver’s mark of 46 set during the team’s inaugural campaign of 1992-93. He’s now only three points shy of Maciver’s team mark of 63 points by a d-man in a season.
Playing in a small market is part of the reason Karlsson hasn’t gotten the acclaim he should. It doesn’t help matters when NBC’s Mike Milbury touts him for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, as Milbury did last night, either not realizing that Karlsson has already played two full seasons or perhaps confusing him with Devils rookie Adam Larsson.
Karlsson is just 21, and obviously doesn’t have the name recognition nor resume of Shea Weber, Nick Lidstrom or Zdeno Chara. But he has zoomed to the top ranks of blueliners this season. Last season (yes, Karlsson indeed played last season), he was a minus-30 on a poor, directionless team. Today, he’s plus-15 on an excellently coached club that is one of the NHL’s surprises — and he’s a big reason why they are.
So the inescapable question is, should Karlsson be the favorite for the Norris Trophy as top NHL defenseman?