Will Karlsson Follow the Dark Road of Green, Doughty and Phaneuf?

Updated: March 24, 2012 at 2:44 pm by Ryan Campbell

I think it’s fair to say that the fantasy steal of the year is Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson. Anyone who says otherwise is probably drunk. In Yahoo! leagues, Karlsson had an ADP of 87.4, and on average was the 16th blueliner off the board, just ahead of the likes of Alex Goligoski, Ryan Whitney and Tyler Myers, most of whom are available at a waiver wire near you!

Karlsson has an astonishing 53% more points than the next closest defender, and this year it comes with a shiny +16 rating rather than last years ugly -30. To put that in perspective, the difference between the top two RW (Malkin and Giroux) is less than 5%, C (Stamkos and Spezza for the purpose of this example) is 12%, and LW (Elias and Sharp) is 11%.

Understandably, there is a lot of excitement surrounding the young Swede, but this isn’t the first time in recent history a young defenceman has taken the league by storm. From 2008-2010, Mike Green of the Capitals recorded 149 points in 143 games to go along with a gaudy +/- and powerplay point totals. While injuries have obviously played a huge role, over the last two seasons Green has posted 31 points in 72 game. Then in 2009 was the emergence of Drew Doughty, but his brilliance only lasted for 59 points and one season. Over the last two years he has settled into the 35-40 point territory, which is certainly valuable, but a far cry from the season that made him a no-doubt keeper.

There are a few explanations as to what happened to these former dynamos. Both players have missed significant time with concussions, and Green has also been sidelined by a myriad of other injuries. There is also the theory that the league catches up to young defenceman quicker than forwards, and it is easier for opposing teams to keep them off the scoresheet. If we want to go back even further, Dion Phaneuf, who had 110 points in his 2nd and 3rd seasons, is another guy whose point totals plummeted. You don’t see this happening to the Crosby’s and Stamkos’ of the world.

This brings us back to our subject; can Erik Karlsson do it again next year? Let’s take a quick look at some of our favourite stats. Karlsson’s on-ice shooting percentage is a very reasonable 9.74% so it’s hard to say that his point total is influenced by any random variation there. His on-ice save percentage of .918% and Corsi rating of 11.5 also indicate that his +/- is legitimate. To put those numbers in perspective, the shooting percentage ranks him 14th among defenceman, and the save percentage ties him for 60th. There is not much room to regress to the median, unlike a Brian Campbell, who sits at a .938 save percentage.

Another factor to consider is offensive zone start percentage. Players can sometimes have their scoring stats inflated in small samples by having a disproportionate number of draws in the offensive zone.  Among defenders, Karlsson comes in 10th at 56.7%, but this really isn’t a surprise, or something we shouldn’t expect to continue.  He is an offensive player whose talents are best utilized in the offensive zone, and he doesn’t penalty kill, which is when a large number of defensive zone draws occur.

If we compare these numbers to 2010-11, the big one that jumps out is on-ice shooting percentage, which was at 6.58%, ranking him 134th out of 147 defenceman with at least 60 games played. He still managed 45 points.

So can Karlsson have a repeat season while having average luck? Yep, probably. There is nothing out of whack with his numbers, like there usually is for most players I cover (yes those are links to me tooting my own horn). While I am usually pretty faithful to the statistics, I don’t think we can ignore the Green and Doughty examples, and how easily the opposition can slow them down now that their tendencies and weaknesses are known. If I were a gambling man, I would still bet $20 that Karlsson puts up 60-65 points next year, but the year after that, not quite as confident. If you play in a keeper league, Karlsson’s value is probably pretty close to it’s apex, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to shop him this off-season.

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