Erik Karlsson #65 of the Ottowa Senators reacts after being called for a two-minute penalty for elbowing Zac Dalpe #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period at PNC Arena on February 1, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
(January 31, 2013 - Source: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Could Norris winner Karlsson average 30 minutes per game?


The Ottawa Senators have no problem leaning heavily on 22-year-old Erik Karlsson — and why should they? Karlsson captured the Norris Trophy last season and is widely regarded as one of the best offensive defensemen in the league.

Still, could they really use him in roughly half of every game?

Karlsson has averaged 28:17 minutes per contest this season and he’s logged over 30 minutes in each of his last two games. That’s an unreal amount of work, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“(The media) keeps better track of that than I do,” Karlsson said in an Ottawa Citizen report.

“I feel great. It feels like I can play more if I want. As long as my body feels good, I don’t have any issues. We’re 10 games in and there are still 38 to go and more than that, hopefully (with the playoffs). You’ve just got to try and take care of your body every day and stay in shape.”

Karlsson took Wednesday’s practice off to give him some time off the ice, but when it comes to games, Senators coach Paul MacLean primarily lets Karlsson play as much as he wants to.

“I guess there is (a risk) with the compacted schedule, but he’s a pretty young guy,” MacLean said.

“There’s always a risk, whether you’re playing 15 (minutes) or 20 or 25 or 30, but he has the capability of handling the 30 minutes. A lot of times, the game, and how the team is playing, dictates it. Right now, we feel he’s at a level that he can keep playing. His fitness level is a big part of it.”

38-year-old defenseman Sergei Gonchar’s (flu) return might cut into Karlsson’s playing time, but Karlsson logged over 29 minutes in the last contest Gonchar participated in.

No player has averaged more than 30 minutes a season since Chris Pronger did it in 1999-2000. Due to his efforts, Pronger joined Bobby Orr as one of the only two players to ever win the Norris and Hart Trophies in a single season.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado