Silver Nuggets: Erik Karlsson's an "offenseman" now

To no one's surprise, St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock is not a fan of Erik Karlsson's playing style.

At least that's what one has to assume given Hitchcock's comments to the ESPN Insider yesterday, in which he campaigned for Alex Pietrangelo to win the Norris Trophy and took a shot at offensive defencemen in the process--comments obviously focussed on Karlsson.

"The thing that's relevant for [Pietrangelo], if you're describing a defenseman, you're talking about a guy who collects points, plays against the other team's best players and kill penalties. That's what he does. He QBs the No. 1 unit on the power play, plays against the other teams' best players. He kills a minute-plus of every penalty kill. What more can you ask for? He does that. He's not protected. Nobody protects him. That's what he does. If you're looking for a legitimate defenseman, then to me, that's what this guy is. He's the word 'defenseman.' He's not an 'offenseman.' He's a complete player."

Although there's little more I can say to add to Graeme Nichols' strong rebuttal on The 6th Sens, I will say this: What a load of crap.

There seems to be an assumption around the league that if a defenceman can put up offensive numbers as ridiculously as Karlsson has this season, he must be a defensive liability--especially considering the fact that Karlsson's an undersized defencemen, so he doesn't make the highlight reels with big defensive plays. People may be guilty of making that assumption, and then subconsciously remember incidents that reinforce it, all the while dismissing those that go against it.

There are no shortage of plays in which Karlsson looks like he's missed his assignment on defence. That's the case with every defenceman in the league, though; none of them are perfect on every play in every game. But there are also no shortage of plays in which Karlsson executes his unique version of defence--something Jason York termed the "Karlsson Squeeze," an anti-climactic play where he uses his positioning to angle oncoming opponents into the boards before stripping them of the puck and, using his outstanding acceleration, separates from the opponent and takes off up the ice. It's not conventional defence, but Karlsson's not a conventional defenceman.

The problem (if you want to call it a problem at all) with that unconventional defence is that it's easily missed, and even more easily ignored. So people who've assembled a flawed vision of Karlsson in their minds don't see it, so it's not commonly used as counter-evidence to their prejudice. They just wait for a giveaway or a goal-against, and add that to their "Karlsson's just an offenseman" [sic] file.

That's not to say Karlsson is necessarily as good defensively as Pietrangelo is. To be frank, I haven't watched the Blues enough to say (it seems like any time there's a Blues game on TV, I'm pulled away by the compelling conclusion of paint drying in another room). But the fact of the matter is that people have a terribly flawed vision of Karlsson as a defensive liability, and it's one that belies reality.

Just watch him and see.

Update: Nichols also takes a shot at Damian Cox' prizing Dan Girardi's "gritty, talented" play over Karlsson's dynamic, game-changing play.

Links after the jump.

Senators headlines:

  • Jesse Winchester is clear to return from his concussion, and could play this weekend. Ben Bishop might be back from his knee lower-body injury earlier than anticipated. (Sun)
  • Cassie Campbell-Pascal attributes a lot of the credit for Ottawa's success this year to Paul MacLean and his coaching staff. (CBC)
  • The Sens signed 2009 fourth-round draft pick Chris Wideman to a two-year entry-level deal on Wednesday. (Senators)
  • Paul MacLean pushed the Sens to work out hard on Wednesday to keep them in game shape during the four-day layoff between games. (Sun)
  • B-Sens coach Kurt Kleinendorst was so furious about the reffing in last night's 5-3 loss to the Hershey Bears that he was actually ejected from the game. Not something you'd expect from the mild-mannered coach. He even said that the ref who gave him a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty earlier in the game--who also ejected Tim Conboy from a game earlier in the season--should be sent "back to the [ECHL]." (Press & Sun Bulletin)

Hockey headlines:

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