Since the Ottawa Senators selected him 15th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the hype surrounding Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson has grown at a rapid pace. During last season's pathetic season, fans looked to Karlsson with great reverence, hoping he'd be the puck moving defenseman that the team was so obviously lacking. Karlsson seemed to confirm this by being named the Top Defenseman at the World Junior Hockey Championship, and fans were ecstatic to see him perform this year with the Senators.
Then, he played a few games in the NHL, and the hype surrounding him was quickly gone.
While fellow rookies Peter Regin and Matt Carkner have exceeded expectations, Karlsson has failed to meet them: he has made a number of untimely errors, has only one point in five games, and is an ugly -4 on the year. Admittedly, his poor play can be attributed to a couple of reasons: first, he has been paired with Chris Campoli, who has been off to a terrible start of his own and is not experienced enough to cover for Karlsson's mistakes; and second, Karlsson is undersized for an NHL defenseman, at only 5'11" and 175lbs. His lack of size has been exploited several times, where he's been easily pushed off the puck by the opposition.
Even if another defenseman can be there to cover his gaffes - perhaps Filip Kuba when he returns from injury - that just means that Kuba will be prevented from playing a truly effective game. Kuba is a great defenseman in his own right, better than Karlsson is right now, and the team will benefit more from having its top defenders play their own game rather than have to babysit for Erik.
Karlsson was given his first crack at the NHL, and has been given many opportunities to shine (although, admittedly, he should have been given more time on the top powerplay unit). It's just about time that the team did what is best for his development, and sent him to the AHL for another year of development. Karlsson needs to adjust slowly to the North American game, get used to a smaller ice and tighter neutral zone. He has to learn when and where he can afford to take risks. Finally, he simply needs to get bigger, which can only happen with time. The amount of strength that a 19 year old can pile on over the course of a season can be dramatic.
As SenSay points out: if Karlsson plays in the AHL, he'll have a chance to quarterback the team's top powerplay, adjust to North American hockey, and regain his confidence. He will not be able to do these things in a league like the NHL that is simply too much for him to handle at this stage of his life.
Erik Karlsson will be a great addition to the Ottawa Senators blueline some day. Unfortunately, that day is not today.