WASHINGTON, D.C. - Erik Karlsson is giving the Senators some big numbers this season.
Now it’s getting near time they return the favor.
Playing on the final year of his entry level contract, the Senators all-star defenceman gave thumbs up to the extension his former Swedish junior national teammate, Victor Hedman, signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
On Wednesday, Bolts GM Steve Yzerman locked in the second overall pick of the 2009 draft to a five-year, $20-million pact.
“Obviously, I’m really happy for Hedman,” Karlsson said after the Senators' on-ice workout at the Washington Capitals practice facility Friday. “It’s a player who deserves it. We’ll see what happens to me. It can be a total different situation, or it can be the same.”
As far as term goes, Karlsson would take something similar.
“Yeah, I like it here,” the 21-year-old said when asked if he’d prefer a long-term deal from Ottawa. “I like this team. I like the organization. I like the city. My fiance loves it here. The things we have going on here are really good.
“Obviously, I want to stay here and hopefully for a long time. Maybe it means to sign a long-term deal right now, or wait a bit. But I want to stay here. And hopefully they want to keep me here.”
Not far past the quarter mark of his third season with the Senators, Karlsson is on the way to blowing his 2010-11 numbers out of the water. He’s tied with Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin for the NHL lead in assists, with 21, and with 22 points he has almost half the 45 he had all last season, when he made the Eastern Conference all-star team.
And the goals are sure to come.
Karlsson had 13 as a Senators sophomore, and while he’s tied for 20th in the league with 81 shots, it would seem to be only a matter of time before he starts lighting the lamp on his own.
It should be noted that Hedman has two goals and no assists in 21 games, but he appears destined to be known more as a defensive defenceman. Because he is 6-foot-6, 230 lbs., some would prefer to have Hedman.
“Over a 15-year period, I’d probably take the bigger guy,” NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire said on the Team 1200 Friday.
Others wouldn’t be able to resist Karlsson’s offensive skills and the fact that he is one of the best skaters in the NHL.
Meanwhile, Karlsson’s defence is under-rated. Maybe he’s not always as intense as he could be in his own zone, but his quick stick and feet can make him hard to beat. After owning one of the worst plus-minus marks in the league last season, he is currently a respectable minus-3.
Against the Caps Saturday, Karlsson's defensive game will be on full display. A right defenceman, he’ll usually be on the ice against one of Washington’s top two left wingers: Alex Ovechkin or Alexander Semin. They are not only among the most talented individuals in the league, but with the Caps 0-2 under new coach Dale Hunter, they should be desperate.
Ovechkin had no points in an early-season 2-1 win against Karlsson and the Senators at the Verizon Center.
“People keep talking about how he’s struggling right now, but he’s still a really good player and if you don’t pay attention to him, he’s going to score goals,” Karlsson said of Ovechkin, who has eight goals and 10 assists in 24 games. “You’ve got to be physical against him, play hard, and be tight. He’s a good skater and a big guy. If you give him too much room, he’s going to be one of the better players out there. You’ve just got to be tight on him.
“Whenever he has the puck, you’ve got to have a guy on him, don’t let him fire it. He has one of the best shots I’ve ever seen.”
That’s the only fish Karlsson is concerned with frying now. He says that the Senator and his agent haven’t yet had talks on an extension doesn’t bother him in the least.
“It’s up to (GM) Bryan (Murray) and those guys,” said Karlsson. “They might have some bigger issues to take care of. I don’t really know. Whenever they are ready to talk, we’re listening. If it’s during the season or after it, it doesn’t really concern me right now.
“I’m just trying to focus on the season and winning hockey games.”