Ottawa Senators: Who Should Be Erik Karlsson’s Defence Partner?

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 21: Marc Methot
OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 21: Marc Methot /

Since the Ottawa Senators made their return to the NHL in 1992 they have had many superstar players. From Daniel Alfredsson to Zdeno Chara to Dany Heatley, the Sens have had their time with the best players in the league. However, none of them have come close to generational greatness quite like Erik Karlsson.

Karlsson is the best player to ever play for the Ottawa Senators bar none. He has won two Norris Trophies and finished second in voting on two other occasions. In 2016, he became the first defenceman in 30 years to finish top five in league scoring. That same year he became the first defenceman to lead the league in assists since Bobby Orr did over 40 years ago. However, despite all this, Karlsson’s career is in a state of uncertainty for the first time.

For years Karlsson has had Marc Methot as his stable defence partner. Methot was a player who gave Karlsson the space he needed to make the great offensive plays he’s known for. However, this past June Methot was taken by Vegas in the expansion draft. As a result, for the first time in years the defence partner of Karlsson is a question mark. There appears to be three viable options, Johnny Oduya, Fredrik Claesson, and Thomas Chabot.

Johnny Oduya

The most obvious and most likely answer to this question is Johnny Oduya. Oduya was brought in over the summer on a one-year contract and looks like the perfect replacement for Methot. He’s a veteran defensive defenceman who will give Karlsson the space he needs to be Erik Karlsson. This seems to be the exact reason Oduya was signed in the first place. Otherwise he doesn’t have an obvious spot in the lineup. Additionally, since Boucher tends to favour veteran players over younger ones, he’ll have an edge of the other two candidates.

Fredrik Claesson

The next option would be Fredrik Claesson. Claesson has been a favourite of the Sens’ analytic community for years and he seems to finally be getting the credit he deserves. During the part of the year when Methot was out with an injury, Claesson was given the opportunity to play alongside Karlsson. During this time, he performed remarkably well for a player with barely any experience in the NHL. He had poise with and without puck and his decision making was superior to many of the Sens’ other defencemen. With Methot gone, Claesson is a natural fit to play with Karlsson. He has performed well in that position before and he would be the least risky of the three candidates.

Thomas Chabot

The final and perhaps most risky candidate to put next to Karlsson is Thomas Chabot. Since being drafted 18th overall in 2015 his value has skyrocketed. He was named the MVP and best defenceman of the QMJHL this past season. In addition, he received the same honours for the World Junior Championship. He is widely considered to be not just the Sens’ best prospect but in the top five prospects in the entire NHL. He’s a dynamic offensive defenceman with a very high hockey IQ. The transition to the NHL can be difficult for young defencemen, but if Chabot transitions well then putting him next to Karlsson would be an interesting prospect. If Chabot can perform as he’s projected to, a pairing of Chabot and Karlsson would be among the best in the league.

However, this wouldn’t be without risk. Karlsson and Chabot are very similar players. Both are offensively minded, dynamic defencemen. Putting two on the same line might not be the most effective way to use them. The reason Methot was such a good partner for Karlsson was because he was very defensively sound and could be relied upon should Karlsson make a mistake. The same may not be true of Chabot. Putting two dynamic defencemen on the same line could result in neither being as effective as their capable of. They may be better off playing on separate lines.

My Opinion

As great as Chabot is, I don’t believe he’s a good fit to play next to Karlsson. That leaves Oduya and Claesson. I believe that Fredrik Claesson is the best option to play with Karlsson. He’s a young defensively responsible defenceman who can play with Karlsson for a long time. He has shown to be a mature player despite his age and lack of experience. More time in the NHL will only result in improvement. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s likely that Boucher shares an opinion with me.

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Boucher’s Preference

Boucher has a history of favouring veteran players over younger ones. He believes that their experience makes them more reliable than their younger counterparts. As a result, I believe that Boucher will put Oduya with Karlsson to start the season. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Oduya is an experienced defensive defenceman who can certainly play a shutdown role. However, I think the real problem is that there’s a good chance that Oduya will only play one season in Ottawa. He won’t be able to develop the kind of chemistry that Methot built with Karlsson over years of playing with each other. That type of chemistry is possible with Claesson which is why I believe he should be the next defensive partner of Erik Karlsson.