KITCHENER -- Erik Karlsson had the presence of a veteran last night.
Not bad for a defenceman who was making his debut with the Senators in a rookie tournament.
Karlsson, Ottawa's top pick in the 2008 NHL draft, had a goal and an assist to lead the Senators rookies to a 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh’s rookies last night at Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.
The 20-year-old Swede has a lot of work to do before he can book a spot on the big club's roster, but Karlsson's first goal in an Ottawa uniform was a thing of beauty as he one-timed the puck by Pittsburgh's Brad Thiessen only 35 seconds into second period.
Coupled with a strong performance by 18-year-old goaltender Robin Lehner, who made 40 saves, and goals from Geoff Kinrade, Craig Schira and Keegan Dansereau, the Senators won their tournament opener as they prepare to face the Boston rookies tomorrow at 2 p.m.
If Karlsson's first impression means anything, it looks like he’ll challenge for a roster spot with the Senators.
“He's got a lot of potential and he showed some really good signs of maturity with the puck,” said Senators coach Don Nachbaur. “The more games he gets under his belt, the more ready he is going to be.
“It’s a different game over here and going into main camp there will be more structure. At times, the way it is, it can be tough for good players, but I thought he was composed.”
Karlsson can certainly move the puck. He needs to get stronger physically, but a strong performance here can bode well going into main camp.
“It was pretty hard for a first game. I felt okay with the way I played. I wasn’t really happy, but I think I’ll keep getting better the more I play,” said Karlsson. “It’s a tough game to play with the size of the rink. That’s a big adjustment and it’s a lot faster. You’ve got to stay focused all the time.”
Another Swede who looked good was Lehner. The 6-foot-3 netminder had plenty of offensive support, but he covers the net.
Of course, it helped Lehner that he was playing with a lead. He made a great pad save on a breakaway by Pittsburgh’s Andy Bathgate in the first period to preserve a 1-0 lead. Schira gave the Senators a 2-0 lead at 16:47 of the first period on a 5-on-3 power play. Kinrade opened the scoring at 13:34 of the first.
“He was a fabulous. He has got a great future. If that’s an indication of what he brings, I’m pretty thrilled about the effort,” said Nachbaur.
Once the game was out of hand, the teams spent a lot of time dropping the gloves in the third, with 12 fighting majors handed out.
“I thought we stood up for each other,” said Nachbaur.