The torch has been passed.
For the better part of the past two decades, Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom has reigned as the NHL’s best defenseman. But as the surefire Hall-of-Famer finds his career winding down with the Wings in this, his 20th season in the Motor City (he’ll be 42 in April), it’s a fellow Swede who sits poised to take over the throne as the league’s best blueliner for the foreseeable future.
All hail King Erik.
Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson is in the midst of a breakout year with the Senators in his 3rd NHL season. The 21-year-old leads all defensemen in scoring so far in 2011-12 (6 G, 38 A, 44 Pts) by a sizeable margin, holding a 10-point edge over Florida’s Brian Campbell (34 Pts). While currently only one off his entire point total for last season, Karlsson’s on pace for 76 points, which would shatter the Sens’ team record for points in a season by a defenseman (63, held by Norm MacIver, 1992-93). He’s also 2nd in the entire league in assists (behind only Henrik Sedin, 41), and sits 6th in power play points (19).
No wonder All-Star captain and teammate Daniel Alfredsson said he wants to take Karlsson with the first overall pick at this year’s All-Star game, which also happens to be in Ottawa.
The 15th overall pick in the 2008 draft is emerging as the steal of the first round. Surprisingly, Karlsson was actually the seventh defenseman drafted that year, selected after the likes of Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn, Tyler Myers and Colton Teubert. Ask any GM around the league which D-man they would pick now, and it’d likely be unanimous.
Karlsson’s solid two-way play is one of the biggest reasons why the Senators are one of the surprise teams in the NHL this season. Currently tied for 4th in the East (through Wednesday) with 58 points, Ottawa finds themselves smack dab in the middle of a playoff race, after finishing a woeful 13th in the conference a year ago. While a great deal of credit goes to new Head Coach Paul MacLean – a sure bet to be a finalist for the Jack Adams Award – and the solid play of Alfie, Jason Spezza and goaltender Craig Anderson, Karlsson has been an absolute rock both on the blueline and the power play this year. Case in point, he’s turned his abysmal -30 rating of 2010-11 into a +7 this season, and his 18 PPA leads the league. As an added bonus, his 158 SOG are tops amongst blueliners.
All told, he’s emerged an absolute fantasy stud, currently sitting in 9th spot amongst all forwards/defensemen in Yahoo! rankings. That’s right, NINTH (compared to Zdeno Chara (29th) or Shea Weber (40th)). If he ends up there, it would make him the first defenseman since Mike Green in 2009-10 to crack the Top Ten in overall fantasy rankings.
So, instead of ripping Lidstrom for taking a flyer on this year’s festivities in the Canadian capital, it’s time to celebrate the changing of the (rear)guard on January 29th at the 59th All-Star Game in Ottawa.
You can bet that the hometown fans will bow to their newfound leader, King Erik, on that day. Based on his performance this season, you should too.
Do you think Karlsson is the real deal, or just a flash in the pan?