Upcoming Season Could Be Erik Karlsson's Best Yet
With a healthy Marc Methot at his side, a stronger Achilles and Daniel Alfredsson's mentoring, Erik Karlsson is looking at a career year.
It's a bit difficult to argue that a player has yet to fulfill their potential after winning two Norris Trophies and leading the league's defensemen in scoring three of the previous four years.
A bit difficult, but not impossible.
Last year, Erik Karlsson was anchored to various bottom pairing defensemen (at best) for half of the season and he still managed to be granted the league's highest praise for a player at his position. It was miraculous, and nearly unbelievable at the time.
After the performance he put on last year, it almost seems arrogant to predict the best is yet to come. But here we are.
With Marc Methot injured until early January, Karlsson was paired with every teammate in sight. The Senators tried all the possible combinations. Every last one of them.
When Methot returned, likely much to the captain's delight, Karlsson's output was more than doubled. His plus/minus skyrocketed, the team began to string together wins, and a gigantic weight was lifted off the 25-year-old's shoulders.
He now had a reliable partner to consistently play with night in and night out.
Playing a solid, conservative defensive game as usual, Methot allowed Karlsson to jump up into the play more often and carry the puck with added confidence. Having to only worry about himself, knowing he would always be backed up defintiely spiked Karlsson's even strength production, where Methot is most prominent.
It's black and white. The young Swede is a whole lot better when he's paired with a suitable partner.
Hopefully, this season, he'll have a lot more time to settle in than he did in 2014.
Another year removed from his dreadful Achilles injury, Karlsson's skating, if you can actually fathom it still improving, is likely to take yet another step in the right direction. He'll likely never feel the same as he did before Matt Cooke's skate sliced his tendon, but it's continuing to heal and become stronger.
"I feel better from the injury which happened (in February, 2013). I feel like I can jump better. My explosiveness is coming back to what it used to be. The rest has helped that." - Erik Karlsson. Ottawa Citizen.Aug. 18, 2015.
And he's also gaining back his idol and mentor Daniel Alfredsson. Having the former Senators captain looking over the current one and working more closely with him than he has the past two seasons is something Karlsson is obviously thrilled about.
"For me, I'm also very excited he's going to be back here. It's going to be nice to see him a little bit more often. He's been helping me out throughout my career, and now he's going to be able to do that a little bit closer." - Erik Karlsson. Ottawa Sun.Sept. 18, 2015.
Although it may have just been preseason, in a 4-3 OT loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, Karlsson was exceptional. Playing at what looked to be 70 percent effort, he took control of the game and was in on every Senators goal giving him three points on the night.
If it's any indication of what is to come, this could be Karlsson's best season yet.
It's only the calm before the storm.