Erik Karlsson isn’t going anywhere.
Except back out on the ice for another 18 minutes a game or so.
Senators GM Bryan Murray said the ups and downs being experienced by the 19-year-old rookie defenceman are anticipated. He said the approaching 10-game mark — beyond which will make this season count as a year for contract purposes and bring him closer to free agency — is not a factor in deciding what’s best for Karlsson, the club’s top pick in the 2008 draft.
“I don’t know why people are caught up with Erik. He’s a young guy who’s going to be an NHL player. Is he going to be here every game? I don’t know. But the 10-game mark is not a trigger point for any outrageous decisions,” said Murray. “There’s no question he can handle it. He has that type of personality. He’ll press at times, but that’s okay.”
Tonight will be Karlsson’s sixth game (An aside: The only way this wouldn’t count as a contract year is if Karlsson went back to Sweden to play. Even sending him to Binghamton of the AHL would count as a year closer to free agency).
Karlsson and partner Chris Campoli were a combined minus-6 in Monday night’s 4-1 loss to the Penguins, leading to discussion about whether Karlsson has what it takes to play in the NHL right now. There’s always the concern some struggles will damage a rookie’s confidence, but, as you might expect, Karlsson dismissed that idea to the large scrum of media clustered around his locker yesterday.
“It’s good,” he said of his confidence. “I’ve got no problem with it ... never had a problem with it,” added the kid, who’s been a little cocky at times.
Karlsson has been thrust into a bigger role — as have all the defencemen — in the absence of top defenceman Filip Kuba, who will miss his fifth straight game with a lower-body injury tonight when the Senators host the Lightning. Two guys who have stepped up nicely are 28-year-old rookie Matt “Big Country” Carkner and Alex Picard.
Karlsson has been averaging 18 minutes of ice time a game, probably a little more than was planned.
“I play as much as the coach thinks I should play,” said Karlsson, who has played a couple of good games and struggled for a couple.
“I thought if (Karlsson) could play up to 15 minutes a game ... but we’ve needed him more than that and the coaches have played him more,” said Murray. “The results have been okay and I think that’s good for his development.”
Senators coach Cory Clouston has had to deploy his blueliners in different ways.
“When you lose Kuba, those are 23 minutes, especially power-play and regular-strength minutes, that all of a sudden you have to make up. In a best-case scenario, a young guy like that won’t play that many minutes. Each game will dictate how that goes and who you play will also dictate that.”
Clouston said a rough night by Karlsson is of less interest to him than how Karlsson responds to it tonight.
“He’s no different than any player. If you think any player is going to go through 82 games without losing confidence, it just doesn’t happen whether you’re a first-year player or an 18-year player like (Alex) Kovalev or (Daniel) Alfredsson. Sometimes the confidence wavers a little bit. It’s how you react to it. He’ll rebound. He’ll be okay,” said Clouston.
Karlsson has played some good hockey. He and Campoli caught a couple of bad breaks Monday night and Karlsson didn’t help the cause losing a couple of battles along the boards, which was a concern given his lack of size.
“Every day is a great experience and the more minutes I play, the more I learn,” said Karlsson. “I’m a young guy in a new league this year. So I’m trying to learn new things every day and gain a lot of experience. I think I will do that the more that I play.
“I do my best every day ... if I get sent down or anywhere else, I’ll know I’ve done the best I can. It’s not going to get me worried.”