Sens face decision on rookie Karlsson

The Ottawa Senators have some big decisions regarding rookie Erik Karlsson. (Darren Brown/SUN...

The Ottawa Senators have some big decisions regarding rookie Erik Karlsson. (Darren Brown/SUN MEDIA)

DON BRENNAN, Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

There could soon be a vacancy at Hotel Alfredsson.

It’s the room that’s been occupied by Erik Karlsson for the past month and a half.

No final decision has been announced, but the Senators appear to be leaning toward sending their top prospect back to Sweden for the season. They are as excited as ever about Karlsson, the 15th overall pick in the 2008 entry draft, but they have concerns about the slight defenceman’s confidence as he battles through the growing pains of his first year in the NHL.

And, for the most part, it has been a battle.

Karlsson, who is averaging 17:25 of ice time, has no goals and three assists through nine games. He is also tied with Alex Kovalev for the worst plus-minus on the team at minus-4, and has been physically overmatched on numerous occasions.

The timing is now, if they are going to make a move with the 170-lb. teenager.

While it’s not until the 40-game mark that a player is one year closer to free agency, once he plays 10 as a pro in North America (in Karlsson’s case either Ottawa or Binghamton) it counts as a season on his contract. Most teams would obviously rather have an entry-level deal with the player last until he’s 22, rather than 21.

Also working against Karlsson’s desire to remain in Ottawa is the imminent return of Filip Kuba, who has missed all but the first game of the season with a groin injury. Kuba, who is now practising, said yesterday he plans to play in Florida this week.

The Senators visit the Panthers tomorrow and the Lightning Thursday.

“We’re going to have to make a decision, obviously, within the next 24 or 48 hours,” coach Cory Clouston said after a practice yesterday that was minus Karlsson and centre Peter Regin — both dealing with the flu bug. “There are some pros and cons (for keeping Karlsson). It’s going to be a tough decision either way.

“You’ve got to make a decision on what’s best for him in the long run and obviously what’s best for us immediately. There are a few other things we have to consider other than just his play and his development.”

Clouston said he thought Karlsson “showed some real good signs” against Boston on Saturday, a game which saw the future power-play quarterback log 18:44 of ice time and lead all players with four takeaways.

“He showed a little bit more composure and had a couple of real nice plays where he was able to skate the puck out of our zone, beat the first forechecker, make good decisions and good reads,” said Clouston. “Obviously, there are still areas his game needs to improve. Size, strength and intensity on a consistent basis. Overall, I think he’s played fairly well.”

Clouston devoted practice to working on the power play, which before last night’s games ranked second worst. Working the right point was captain Daniel Alfredsson, who admitted he’d relish the opportunity to man the position in a game again.

The Senators are a seriously lacking the big hard shot from the blue line Alfredsson can provide.

“It was (Clouston’s) call,” Alfredsson said when asked if he suggested the alignment. “I’d love to play back there. At the same time, I don’t mind playing on the half-wall or up front either. But we need to get something going and that could be a good change for us.”

Alfredsson and his wife Bibi have opened their home to Karlsson and his girlfriend Therese, helping the young couple adjust to the North American way of life. Alfredsson joked yesterday that “the lease is up, but we can renegotiate” when asked about the team’s impending decision regarding his fellow Swede.

“It’s a situation where if he plays one more game, everybody knows the contract situation,” said Alfredsson. “Obviously, he would love to stay, no question. But I’m sure there will be dialogue as to what’s best for his situation. Fortunately for us, and him as well, he’s been playing better and the team’s been doing pretty good.

“It’s a tough decision to be made, especially these days because of the salary cap and whatnot, with other moves they have to do, but I know for sure he’d love to stay.

“The big concern going into camp is whether he’d just be a guy that would play the power play,” added Alfredsson. “(If he just did that) I think it wouldn’t be any good for his development. I’m sure (GM) Bryan (Murray) and the coaches will talk and do the right thing. It’s a player with exceptional potential and you just want to make sure he gets brought up the right way.”


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