Written By Derrick Brose  
Written By Derrick Brose  

The Rollercoaster Sophomore Season of Erik Karlsson


Written By Derrick Brose

The Franchise

 To say that this season has been a wild ride for Erik Karlsson would be an understatement.
Selected 15th overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft by the Ottawa Senators and playing for the first time in North America last year, the young defenseman from Landsbro, Sweden enjoyed a rookie campaign that resembled a bottle of fine wine- it just kept getting better with age. Karlsson showcased break-a-way speed and finesse abilities that delighted and amazed management and Sens fans alike. After concluding their season with a hard-fought, six-game playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, many involved in and around the Senators organization could not help but salivate about the future of their budding star.
The summer was fairly quiet in Ottawa. Although general manager Bryan Murray did make headlines by landing free agent defenseman Sergei Gonchar (replacing a position vacated by Anton Volchenkov and his expiring contract), Murray was otherwise inactive when it came to tinkering with the team’s roster. Buoyed by their performances down the stretch and in the playoffs, the organization was hoping to benefit from the continued output of their young players as well as their existing veterans.
Many eyes were on Erik Karlsson and the team’s other young talent to start the 2010-11 campaign. The questions that surrounded #65 were numerous as well. Could he maintain the offensive output he displayed towards the end of the previous season? Would he succumb to  the “sophomore slump”? Could his 5’11”, 175 lbs. frame stand up to the extra attention a  player of his ability would surely demand? The early answers to those questions were discouraging. Both Karlsson and the Senators slumped out of the gate.  The team posted a record of 4-6-1 in the month of October, while Karlsson had four points, a penchant for in-zone defensive lapses, and a minus four plus/minus rating. Erik had the prototypical look of a 20-year-old caught smack dab in the midst of a sophomore jinx. The effort was there, but the dots weren’t connecting.
With his play inconsistent and battling the flu, Coach Cory Clouston opted to scratch the young gun from the line-up for two games in late November. Said Clouston, “he was definitely sick … it’s been going through the team a little bit, but it’s a perfect time for him to step back and kind of refocus and get his game back on track.” This was one of the lowest points in the season for Karlsson, he was not a fan of being relegated to the press box. But the move seemed to have had the desired effect.
As the season progressed into December, the Senators as a whole continued to struggle. With the losses mounting and a dark cloud forming over Scotiabank Place, there was at least one bright light that managed to peak through the dark days – that bright light was Karlsson.
By January, Karlsson had put any notion of a prolonged sophomore slump to bed. While he was still prone to the odd turnover, he now led the entire team in most offensive categories, lead the team in average ice-time, and most importantly, he skated and made plays that Sens fans and management had been given a taste of in his rookie year.  On January 11th, the NHL validated Karlsson’s strong play by naming him as the lone Ottawa Senator to be represented at the All-Star game in Carolina. Check out the video of Karlsson’s reaction upon being named as a participant in the All-Star game courtesy of SensTV.

The All-Star game no doubt represented a high point in Karlsson’s sophomore season. Not only did the All-Star defenseman have an opportunity to participate in the on-ice festivities, he also had the chance to rub shoulders with the game’s most elite talent including fellow countryman and boyhood idol Nicklaus Lidstrom.  It also must have been a nice break from what was becoming a disaster of a season in the nation’s capital. Karlsson ended up having a solid showing in Carolina, highlighted by a beautiful goal on Boston ‘tender Tim Thomas in the “Elimination Shootout” of the Super Skills competition.
February represented a particularly tough month for the Sens both on and off the ice. On the ice, the team was in the midst of a season-worst, 10-game losing streak; they were simply playing awful hockey, and this time Karlsson was no exception. Since returning from Carolina, the All-Star appeared to have trouble settling his game back into a normal NHL pace. It was speculated that he had become confused amidst differing messages. Thinking that since offense was what got him to the All-Star game, perhaps he should take more risks in favour of creating more offense. The results were offensive, but not in the way Karlsson had hoped. The youngster was guilty of some porous defensive play, making him a minus player in all but two February games. However, it was not like the kid was getting much support from any of his teammates.  
Off the ice, as the team continued to spiral the drain, Bryan Murray an owner Eugene Melnyk declared the season a wash. After admitting their shortcomings, there came a shift in focus; the organization would be moving forward with a rebuild. Over a two-week period leading towards the NHL trade deadline, player after veteran player were heading out the door in exchange for draft picks. Only Karlsson and Captain Daniel Alfredsson were deemed “untouchable” by the GM. When the dust finally settled, six roster players had been shipped out, among them were long-time Senators Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly.
Since the trade deadline, the Senators have been surprising as lot of people. With a fresh crop of farm hands called up from their AHL affiliate in Binghamton to fill the void left by traded players and injuries, and with newly acquired goaltender Craig Anderson playing out of his mind, the remaining Senators players, and the organization as a whole, have embraced a refreshing new attitude. In the month of March, the new-look Senators have skated with poise and confidence, compiling an 9-6-1 record with three games remaining in the season.
Karlsson has been electric in the month of March as well. In his last 15 games, Karlsson has four goals and eight assists for 12 points. Non-statistically, he looks to have regained the confidence that got him selected to the All-Star game. He has cut down on the risky plays in his own zone, and when he does make a mistake, is usually able correct it with good positioning and closing speed. Most notably, Karlsson and centre Jason Spezza have had some nice chemistry going on. The two have been finding each other with cross seam passes in the offensive zone and really appear to be on the same wavelength. Here is some recent video evidence of the chemistry between Spezza and Karlsson courtesy again of SensTV.

In only his second professional year of hockey in a new continent, Erik Karlsson has certainly experienced his fair share of what the NHL has to offer. And through all the turnovers, the goals, being scratched, being named an All-Star, witnessing the start of a rebuild mid-season, he continues to take it all in, act like a pro, and develop his game. At only 20 years of age, Karlsson has already scored more goals than any Ottawa Senators defenseman since former Sen Zdeno Chara netted 16 in 2005-06. Karlsson currently has 13 tallies on the year but has had his season cut short with a laceration to his leg.

With more new faces expected to join the organization next year, and entering his third year at the National Hockey League level, Karlsson will be looked at by management to bring a more consistent, overall effort in conjunction with his offensive prowess. They will also hope that he spends some time in the gym and at his mother’s dinner table over the summer to put some more meat on his bones. But as far as what Sens fans can expect from Karlsson next season, well, they might have to build a bigger rollercoaster.


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