Making the Case to be Captain: Erik Karlsson


For all those that bemoan him for his defensive game occasionally leaving more to be desired, few would say he isn’t one of the main reasons (or THE reason) that fans pay to come see the Senators play at the Canadian Tire Centre.

A true superstar, Erik Karlsson is an elite player in the league and few current defensemen can even fathom to approach his offensive dynamics, let alone equal them. A veritable wunderkind, sprouting right from within our own system no less, Karlsson is revered in Ottawa and from a casual fan’s perspective seems the most obvious choice for the “C”.

On popularity alone its hard to argue Karlsson wouldn’t win the captaincy outright. But it should be said that the more veteran, hardcore fans would never want it to come down to that; they want a leader, a character player that has the team’s and the fans’ best interests at heart. Karlsson is still young and naturally people will have their doubts about whether he has the maturity to be the figurehead of the Ottawa Senators, through the good times and also when things get a little muddy.

For those cynics they need to look no further than the way Karlsson has handled himself on ice and with the media through the departures of consecutive captains.

You can see it in his interviews, as much as he doesn’t always seek out media attention he does come across as levelheaded and is willing to honestly asses the team’s and his own performance after a game. More importantly it looks as though he actually has fun dealing with the media. This level of comfort and consistency does wonders for his image and I would say he is certainly one of the more media-savvy members of the Ottawa Senators. His interviews, while certainly diplomatic, do come across as genuine and honest, and qualities such as these are imperative for whomever dons the Big “C”.

It should also be noted that his quickness in coming back from and rehabilitating his Achilles injury as an instance that showed great personal maturity and dedication, qualities befitting of any good leader.

Now image isn’t everything, but Karlsson’s on ice play certainly has done its part to set him up well in the captaincy discussion. He definitely has the capabilities of getting back to his Norris trophy season. Defensemen are always said to take longer to develop, and Defense can always be taught.

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Offensive, play-driving talent like Karlsson has cannot be (he was 15th in the entire league last year in shots). And let’s not forget he was practically reared by the greatest captain Ottawa has ever had (regardless of how you feel about him now, you can’t deny the indelible mark Daniel Alfredsson has left on the city of Ottawa). I’m sure at least by observation Karlsson was able to learn a bit about what leadership takes.

For those old school minded fans that think the captaincy should be handed over to veterans like Neil or Phillips it has to be argued (though surely causing some friction) that this is no longer their team. Make no mistake, Phillips and Neil are beloved Senators, legacy players that hopefully (and it looks like they will) play out their last years here in the nation’s capital.

But if you take a look at the Senators roster 14 players (including current fringe players like Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Jean-Gabriel Pageau who all played at least some games for the Senators last season, as well as Curtis Lazar who seems primed to stick out of training camp) out of a regular 22 man roster, roughly 64%, are 25 or under.

This is a young team. Despite the veteran infusion of David Legwand and Clarke MacArthur‘s recent extension, our future still is seen in prospects like Matt Puempel, Shane Prince, and Frederik Claesson that could easily be envisioned on the roster as soon as next season.

Admittedly a young team isn’t a reason to stray from veteran leadership and the Sens surely won’t, in fact they’ll rely on it heavily this year. But with this youth and the departures of former superstar captains in Spezza and Alfie and other veterans of the 2007 team that went to the cup finals (of which only Chris Phillips and Chris Neil now remain), this has become a different team in search of a new identity. Neil and Phillips are legacy players, invaluable because of their experience and veteran knowledge, but they are no longer able to lead with their on ice play as would be expected of a captain.  Let’s be honest, Phillips has slowed down considerably, and Neil was one of the main reasons the Senators were shorthanded so often last year.  If Ottawa is going to succeed this year both players need to bounce back, and at 36 and 35 respectively this isn’t such a sure thing.

Karlsson is perfect because although he wasn’t even drafted until the year after the season they almost won it all, he did play with plenty of those veterans.  This includes many long-time players and leaders, so he knows what the end of that era was.  However, he’s also only 24 and subsequently is well in tuned with the struggles of the younger players on the team and their journeys toward becoming full-time impact NHL players. Karlsson is a superstar, but a young one, and that fact allows him to relate to many of the players in many ways, but also to be looked up to in a way that most of the other players probably aren’t able to be (perhaps Bobby Ryan if he has a bounce back season, and if he signs a long-term extension).

He’s got the image, he’s mature (and learned from the best), he can play the right way, and he bridges the gap for fans and players of the old and new Ottawa Senators. The case has been made for Karlsson as captain.