The Ottawa Senators need a healthy Erik Karlsson.
A semi-healthy Erik Karlsson is still one of their best players, but a healthy Karlsson is simply critical to team success--especially with the loss of Daniel Alfredsson,
Of course, there's not much reason to worry--by his own account, Karlsson has had his best offseason of working out ever. But there's also some reason to worry. While other players, like Travis Zajac, have completely recovered from similar injuries, complete recovery time is significant, and Karlsson is not there yet.
By his own admission, Karlsson still has numbness in his foot. And while he says it won't affect him--and it obviously hasn't, since he continued rehabbing and working out all summer long--anyone who has tried to drink with a numb lip or walk when their foot is asleep knows that numbness can make performing optimally challenging. As long as his foot is numb, Karlsson is going to be lacking some of that sensory feedback that you don't miss until it's gone--and that feedback is the kind of thing people talk about when they talk about feeling "right."
Feeling right is key to trusting your body, and though Karlsson played very well in his return last season, it was also clear that his trust wasn't quite there yet. Little things like choosing to pass instead of skating it out of the zone or a half-second pause before engaging in the defensive zone were noticeable if you were familiar with Karlsson's play before his injury.
This is important, because so much of Karlsson's game is dependent on his explosive acceleration. Karlsson is free to gamble because he can get back into a play so quickly when he looks out of one. His offense is dependent on using his skating to be elusive. It's in leading rushes and finding space where he becomes so dangerous. If Karlsson has any hesitation in his play, he loses that advantage. We've already seen what Karlsson looks like without that advantage--still great, but not elite.
The problem, of course, is that the Senators need Karlsson to play at that elite level to help answer all the other questions facing them this season. Karlsson is a difference-maker who provides a unique skill set that cannot be replaced. And his skill set is dependent on his ability to skate effortlessly. And his ability to skate effortlessly is dependent on the health of his repaired Achilles tendon.
The interesting part is that we know the odds of a complete recovery for Karlsson are good--there's precedent in place for it, and Karlsson's injury was not as severe as those precedents--he only suffered a 70% tear laceration. The only factor working against him is time. It's highly likely that by the time the playoffs roll around Karlsson will look like his old self, and it's nearly a certainty that he will for the 2014-15 season.
But it's not the 2014-15 season yet. It's the 2013-14 season. That means there will be questions around Karlsson's health until he returns to the form we saw before his injury.