Defenceman Erik Karlsson walked onto the Ottawa Senators roster this year before even playing an NHL game. While Christoph Schubert was sent to the minors and later given up on re-entry waivers, and Alex Picard sat in the press box, Karlsson was given the benefit of the doubt for nine NHL games. In that time, he put up a respectable--if underwhelming--three assists, and didn't look entirely out of place. He didn't look like the dominating offensive presence it was hoped he would be, though, so before his first entry-level contract year kicked in, he was relegated to the AHL's Binghamton Senators.
Amidst an emotional response from Karlsson, and criticism from some that the move could alienate the young defenceman, coach Cory Clouston and GM Bryan Murray felt it was better for him to get more used to the North American style of play, including the smaller rinks and more punishing physicality, then let him develop in the NHL. While other rookie defencemen like Michael Del Zotto, Dmitry Kulikov, and Tyler Myers stuck around with their big-league squads, Karlsson was given some seasoning in the AHL.
And, as the season goes on, it's looking more and more like it was the right move.
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During his nine NHL games, Karlsson actually had some decent looking stats. He averaged 17:25 in ice time per game, a pretty good clip for a rookie defenceman, put up the aforementioned three assists (although nada on the powerplay), had seven takeaways to offset only five giveaways, five hits, and 16 shots (plus another eight that were blocked on the way and eight that missed the net). In fact, his only glaringly bad statistic was the -4 he accumulated, which remains second-worst on the team (ahead of Jonathan Cheechoo, tied with Alex Kovalev in that spot). The Senators' brass, however, weren't looking for a pretty good defenceman; they are looking for a very good, bordering on elite, puck-moving, powerplay-quarterbacking defenceman, and Karlsson just wasn't ready for that kind of responsibility in the NHL yet.
It took him a while, but Karlsson seems to be adjusting pretty well to the AHL's game, and his stats are getting continually better:
|Nov. 21||W, 4-1||0||1||1||0||2||2|
|Nov. 20||L, 2-5||0||1||1||-2||2||0|
|Nov. 18||W, 2-1||0||0||0||0||3||0|
|Nov. 14||L, 5-6 (SO)||0||2||2||-1||5||0|
|Nov. 13||W, 5-0||0||2||2||+1||2||2|
|Nov. 11||L, 3-5||0||1||1||0||1||2|
|Nov. 10||W, 5-3||0||0||0||+1||3||4|
|Nov. 8||L, 0-1||0||0||0||0||4||0|
|Nov. 6||W, 2-1||0||0||0||+1||0||4|
|Nov. 4||W, 2-0||0||0||0||0||3||4|
|Oct. 30||L, 2-4||0||1||1||-1||3||4|
So, long story short, he's getting along. And, although he's not dominating by any measure, his presence has helped the B-Sens, who've gone 6-4-1 since he joined the team after starting the season with a 3-4-1 mark. There are more factors to the improved play than just Karlsson--including goaltender Mike Brodeur stepping up, to name just one--but the young defenceman's presence has undoubtedly been a boon for the B-Sens.
Nowhere has Karlsson's presence been more noted than on the B-Sens' powerplay. As Michael Sharp noted in a recent story, Bingo's powerplay started the season awfully, with a 3-for-40 (7.5 percent) effectiveness rating before Karlsson was sent there. Since Special K (can that be a nickname?) joined the team, though, they've improved to 10-for-51, or almost 20 percent effectiveness, bringing their ranking to 13 in the AHL. Of Karlsson's eight assists, four have been on the powerplay.
Obviously, Karlsson is not where he needs to be yet to earn regular time on the Ottawa powerplay. It sure looks like he's picking up his pace in the AHL, though, and with seven assists in his last six games, he looks to be getting more comfortable with the style of play. If his comfort level continues to improve, don't be surprised if he returns to Ottawa to help out the Senators powerplay at some point this season.