Heading into the 2014-15 NHL season, perhaps no player in the league will determine his club’s level of success or have as much pressure weighing squarely on his shoulders than Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson.
Karlsson has shown the propensity to step up in big situations, but what he faces this season will be more than anything he has seen before. With the trade of Jason Spezza to the Dallas Stars, Karlsson becomes option 1, 2 and 3 to provide offense. Sure, a healthy Bobby Ryan will help while Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur are coming off career (or near career) seasons, but the straw that will stir the Senators drink is EK65.
Turris has never had a 60 point season or scored at a pace that would net him 60 points. The 58 he scored last season was by far a career high and he won’t have the insulation of a near point per game centre. MacArthur set a career high in goals with 24, and will have to score that and then some for the Senators to make any noise. Ryan is heading into a contract year, and negotiations (or lack thereof) on a new deal could affect the way he plays on the ice.
So that leaves Karlsson, who is the most dynamic defenseman in the league, but in order to return to his Norris Trophy form he will also need to turn focus in his own end as well as being the catalyst offensively.
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The weight of a budget team, a fan base and a city will rest squarely on his diminutive shoulders, and he might have to don tights and a cape to live up to those expectations.
He is far and away the Senators most important player, and I would defy you to name any one individual (goaltenders aside) who will have as much impact on how his team performs than Erik Karlsson.