Top 25 under 25, no. 1: Erik Karlsson
The top name on our rundown of the top 25 Ottawa Senators players under 25 should surprise no one: Erik Karlsson isn't just the best young player on the team, he's flat-out the team's best player. Period.
It's really hard to know what to say about Karlsson that hasn't already been said. He's 21 years old, and was a team leader in his third pro season. He was the linchpin of Ottawa's offence, and was integral to the team's surprising success this season. His 78P this season tied him for tenth in overall scoring, and was 25P more than the next-highest-scoring defenceman.
Karlsson's career trajectory has been a ridiculously steep one. Due in large part to his small stature, Karlsson wasn't selected until 15th overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft--but the Sens wanted him badly, and traded up to ensure they'd get him in the Ottawa organization. Not everyone was on board with the pick, and his ten-point season with Frolunda the following year didn't immediately inspire much confidence.
Confidence was something Karlsson had in spades, though, so eff all that. He turned pro over here the following season, scored two assists in his first 10 games with Ottawa, and was demoted to Binghamton... where he proceeded to notch 11A in 11GP before being recalled to Ottawa barely a month after his demotion. He slowly gained comfort in the NHL through the midst of the season, and lit it up in the latter part of 2009-10, scoring 12P (4G, 8A) in the final ten regular season games plus another six points (1G, 5A) in six playoff games.
The following season was a catastrophe for the team, but Karlsson still managed to build on his offensive totals. He also honed his defensive game and awareness, particularly towards the latter part of the season, inventing the 'Karlsson Squeeze' to separate opposing forwards from the puck and using his speed to separate himself from those opponents. He also played some time on the penalty kill, and didn't look out of place there, although it wasn't the most efficient use of his particular skill set.
And then there was 2011-12. Karlsson started strong, ended strong, and middled strong. He was the NHL's best offensive defenceman by a country mile, and among three finalists for the Norris Trophy as the top blueliner in the league. Whether he wins that award hardly matters; his season this year speaks for itself.
So yeah, Karlsson's alright. He's also a restricted free agent, but I can't see a circumstance where the Senators and Karlsson won't be able to come to terms on a deal, so here's to hoping for many more years of watching Karlsson's magic.