T.J. Oshie


William Karlsson and the most unexpected goal scoring performance ever


One of the biggest factors — among many — in the Vegas Golden Knights’ rapid ascent to the top of the NHL standings in their first year of existence has been the play and development of William Karlsson.

The Golden Knights acquired Karlsson, along with a first-round draft pick, in one of their many expansion draft deals. This particular deal saw them get Karlsson and the pick in exchange for taking on David Clarkson‘s contract and not taking Josh Anderson and a small handful of other players off of the Blue Jackets’ unprotected list.

As we wrote a couple of months ago in looking at the trades that built Vegas’ top line, it is going to be fascinating to watch the careers of players like Karlsson and Anderson progress from here to truly evaluate that decision by the Blue Jackets.

With Karlsson currently sixth in the league in goals (35), and Anderson currently sitting at 29 total points, it is looking like a steal for the Golden Knights.

But in Columbus’ defense, nobody should have seen this coming. Literally. No one. Because there was nothing in Karlsson’s background or in NHL history to suggest that a season like this was coming. Not that it should excuse sending him and a first-round pick away to protect Anderson or a backup goalie, just nobody could have imagined this sort of season from Karlsson.

Prior to this season Karlsson had played 183 games in the NHL and had scored just 18 goals as a member of the Anaheim Ducks and Blue Jackets.

Let’s just take a look to consider how improbable it is for a player with that sort track record and start to their career to have a season quite like this.

Using the Hockey-Reference.com database I searched for forwards, going back to 1967 (the post-Original Six era), that fit the following criteria that matched Karlsson’s career prior to this season.

  • Played in at least 160 NHL games before turning 25
  • Had scored fewer than 20 total goals
  • Had a career shooting percentage lower than 8 percent

There were only 52 players that matched that (including Karlsson).

It was predominantly a collection fourth-liners, a few enforcers, and players that had washed out of the NHL shortly after their age 24 season.

None of the players on that list other than Karlsson ever went on to have a 30-goal season in the NHL (Karlsson already has 35 with 15 games to play. He has a real shot at 40 goals).

Only three of them went on to have even one 20 goal season.

  • Walt McKechnie, a former No. 6 overall pick that went on to play in nearly 1,000 games, had four 20-goal seasons in his career. He topped out at 26 goals in 1975-76.
  • Kelly Buchberger in his age 25 season scored a career high 20 goals for the Edmonton Oilers. He never scored more than 12 in any season after that, though he did carve out a pretty successful career as a fourth-liner and played in more than 1,000 games.
  • Steve Ott scored 22 in his age 27 season and was a pretty consistently worth 10-12 goals over his career.

When you look at players that have performed like Karlsson did throughout his career they just don’t typically tend to develop into anything more than what they had shown to that point.

By the time you turn 25 and have played two full season’s worth of games in the NHL that is usually a good indication of what type of player you are going to be. After all, most players tend to hit their peak production around the ages of 24 or 25, and if you haven’t played a ton of games to that point it is difficult to really break into the league as a regular (it happens from time to time, but those are exceptions — not the rules).

But here is Karlsson, emerging as one of the best goal scorers in the league, at least for one season.

It has been a perfect storm for him and Vegas. He immediately clicked on a line with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, a trio that has been as good as any other line in the league.

He is also riding a 23.8 shooting percentage that is tops in the league and one of the best individual shooting seasons in recent NHL history.

Again using the Hockey Reference database you can find that there have only been 74 instances in the history of the league where a player shot higher than 23 percent on a minimum of 125 shots on goal in a season. The overwhelming majority of them happened between the firewagon hockey days of the late 1970s and 1980s.

Only four of them (including the one Karlsson is currently) on have happened since 1995.

Alex Tanguay scored 29 goals while shooting 23.2 percent in 2005-06. He followed that up with a 22-goal season in 2006-07.

Petr Prucha scored 30 goals as a rookie in 2005-06 on a 23.1 percent mark. He scored 22 the next season then slowly faded out of the league after that, scoring just 26 goals over the next four years.

T.J. Oshie scored on 23.1 percent of his shots a year ago for the Washington Capitals and signed a massive eight-year contract extension after the season. This season he has 12 goals, with only four coming at even-strength.

No matter how you look at it, Karlsson’s production this season is one of the most unbelievable and unexpected individual performances in the league. It has also helped drive one of the most unbelievable and unexpected team performances in the history of the league.

Maybe even in the history of professional sports.

Maybe he is better than he showed in Anaheim and Columbus and simply needed a bigger opportunity with the right linemates to truly shine as an offensive player. Everything we have to evaluate players suggests he is not going to score on 23 percent of his shots again next season or throughout his career.

But you can not take away the pucks that have found the back of the net this season, and it has been a ton of fun to watch to unfold.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Anaheim Ducks

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Washington Capitals

Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromTom Wilson

Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie

Brett ConnollyLars EllerAndre Burakovsky

Chandler StephensonJay BeagleDevante Smith-Pelly

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson

Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen

Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

[Capitals – Ducks preview]

Anaheim Ducks


Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Andrew CoglianoRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Jason ChimeraDerek Grant — Chris Kelly

Cam FowlerBrandon Montour

Marcus PetterssonHampus Lindholm

Josh MansonKevin Bieksa

Starting goalie: John Gibson

NHL planning more outdoor games at U.S. service academies

AP Images

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The NHL’s first outdoor game at a U.S. service academy probably won’t be its last.

After the Washington Capitals hosted the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Naval Academy, the league hopes to play games at Army’s West Point and the Air Force Academy over the next few years.

It’s a significant foray into honoring and partnering with branches of the military that follows the lead of the NFL and Major League Baseball for a league that’s split between the United States and Canada.

“It’s unique and as we continue to move forward with the outdoor games, you look for new concepts and new themes and new things that’ll interest the fans,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press on Saturday. “Certainly the hope is, with a successful game (at Navy), we’ll continue the venture with the Army and the Air Force and we’ll see where we go from there.”

Daly said he’d be surprised if the sequel to Maple Leafs-Capitals at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium comes as soon as the 2018-19 season, though 2019-20 is a possibility. The Florida Panthers faced the New Jersey Devils inside in an exhibition game at West Point’s Tate Rink in 2006, and ownership connections to the Army make the Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights strong candidates for a potential outdoor game there.

American-born players taking part in the game at Navy said they were honored to get the opportunity. Told of the NHL’s future plans to attempt games at Army and Air Force, Maple Leafs defenseman Ron Hainsey called it “a great road for us to go down.”

“It’s a nice recognition and a little partnership almost that we’re able to play here,” American-born Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “I think means different things to different people. As a country, it means a lot, especially the Americans that play in the league and our fans.”

The NHL has 24 American- and seven Canadian-based teams and is made up of about 49 percent Canadian-born players. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces took part in pregame ceremonies with the Maple Leafs, and Daly said involving a team from north of the 48th parallel was a conscious decision that didn’t meet any resistance.

“I think North American forces are united,” Daly said. “I think there’s a real appreciation for the military wherever you are, north or south of the border. While it was something we certainly thought about, it certainly hasn’t been something that’s been an obstacle at all.”

When Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, native Mike Babcock moved to Spokane, Washington, he recalled the deep connections to the military from those stationed at nearby Fairchild Air Force Base or just residents who served or knew someone who was in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps. So he’s very attuned to the comparisons and contrasts for the military in the United States and Canada.

“When you talk to families in the U.S., there seems to be someone in every family that’s had someone in the family,” the Maple Leafs’ coach said. “When you do it in Canada, we don’t have as big a military, so we haven’t had that same thing. That doesn’t mean we don’t have tons of people doing a really good job and doing everything they can.”

Babcock said he didn’t know how the NHL would make an outdoor game work at a place like the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, and Daly acknowledged the service academies are different in the United States. They also provide the kind of outdoor venues that fit hockey well.

“It’s just a different atmosphere,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said before playing at 34,000-seat Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. I think football stadiums and baseball stadiums, which I’ve played in, they’re amazing. But to have a kind of unique atmosphere and history to this place and from a fan’s point of view the sightlines and all that are way better at a place like this than a 60,000-seat football field.”

Being part of a historic atmosphere is one thing players, American and otherwise, cited as an added value to this Stadium Series game.

“As Americans, I’m sure if you’re from a different country, it probably doesn’t quite feel that way, but for us it does feel really special,” Capitals right winger T.J. Oshie said. “It’s great for the NHL, it’s great for hockey and it’s great for the Americans that are able to play in the games.”

The NFL has partnered with the military for years, and the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins played at Fort Bragg in North Carolina in 2016. The NHL is now wading into those waters with more to come.

“The recognition that (servicemen and women) deserve, I guess, is probably a lot more than everyone’s doing,” Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner said. “To play some sporting events at places like this is pretty cool.”

WATCH LIVE: NHL Stadium Series 2018 – Capitals vs. Leafs

AP Images

NBC’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Saturday night as the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals face off in a 2018 Stadium Series game at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland at 8 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBC or our live stream by clicking here.


Toronto Maple Leafs
Patrick MarleauNazem KadriMitch Marner
Zach HymanTomas PlekanecWilliam Nylander
James van RiemsdykTyler BozakConnor Brown
Leo KomarovDominic MooreKasperi Kapanen

Morgan RiellyRon Hainsey
Jake GardinerNikita Zaitsev
Travis DermottRoman Polak

Starting goalie: Frederik Andersen

[NHL On NBC: Maple Leafs, Capitals meet outside in Stadium Series]


Washington Capitals
Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Brett ConnollyLars EllerAndre Burakovsky
Chandler StephensonJay BeagleDevante Smith-Pelly

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blues bold to trade Stastny; door open for Tavares?


Forgive Brayden Schenn. He’s probably new to the St. Louis Blues making courageous-yet-painful trades with the future in mind. After all, Schenn was part of a trade that was more about immediate results (and boy were those results brilliant early on).

Schenn vented upon learning about the Blues sending Paul Stastny to powerful division rivals in the Winnipeg Jets, and you can understand why. Schenn thought it was “crazy” to sell off Stastny, a pending UFA, with the Blues barely out of playoff position.

[A deep look at the trade]

As Mike Rupp and Anson Carter discussed on NBCSN yesterday, it’s definitely the sort of trade that can ruffle feathers in the locker room.

Sure, there might have been some weary grunts in the Blues locker room after seeing a quality center go to the Jets. No doubt about it, the move makes an already-scary Jets team a true frontrunner in a fairly wide-open West.

Schenn’s Blues teammates should probably remind him that this sort of thing has happened before, and if they’re being truly honest, it’s worked out quite well for GM Doug Armstrong.

Let’s consider the moments when the Blues “pulled off the Band-Aid” with players, either through trades or allowing them to walk in free agency, where other teams might have panicked and left themselves in a jam:

Stastny: Look, he’s definitely a nice player, and he’ll probably command less than the $7 million cap hit that’s now split between the Jets and Blues. That said, the aging curve has to be a consideration; Stastny is already 32.

Let’s not kid ourselves, either. The Blues went into the deadline on a six-game losing streak, looking pretty lifeless in getting shut out by the Predators the day before on NBC. If you think this team has a lukewarm ceiling even with Stastny – a player you might not want to keep – then why not get a first-rounder for him rather than letting him leave for nothing?

It becomes even more of a no-brainer when you consider that the Blues can use that free agent money on an upgrade. Darren Dreger speaks of the Blues “going all-in” on John Tavares. St. Louis isn’t necessarily the landing spot you’d think of for the superstar Islander, but who knows? And if they can’t get Tavares, maybe they’re keeping the door open for another nice player to supplement Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Pietrangelo, and Colton Parayko.

Ryan Reaves: Another feather in Armstrong’s cap was getting a first-rounder for a dying breed. It was great value, and also softened the blow of sending a first-rounder to Philly in the Schenn trade.

Kevin ShattenkirkAt the time, the price didn’t seem that great for the big fish of free agency, but the Capitals would beg to differ in hindsight. St. Louis grabbed some interesting pieces or a guy who was going to walk in free agency, and who knows if they land Schenn if there wasn’t a first-rounder coming back here?

Shattenkirk stands as an especially brave choice being that he was still in his prime when the Blues decided he wasn’t quite a core player.

Letting David Backes and Troy Brouwer walk: People who preach the aging curve saw this coming, and plenty of others did … but Backes was this team’s captain, and Brouwer was that sandpaper guy who could score at a nice clip.

More conservative organizations probably would have re-signed one or both of them, closing the door for future upgrades and young players to emerge at cheaper prices. You could bet the Bruins and Flames would like a mulligan on Backes and Brouwer respectively.


That’s just a sampling of the moves Armstrong’s made, and some have worked out better than others (the return for T.J. Oshie isn’t the greatest, even if he wasn’t meant to stick around either way).

If you want to look at an organization that, aside from Pietrangelo going fourth in 2008, hasn’t really relied on “tanking” to stay competitive, look no further than the Blues. Sure, it’s been frustrating for fans – and sometimes players like Schenn – to see this team stop just short of finding that extra gear, but they’ve been remarkably spry in staying competitive. It wouldn’t be surprising if they slip into the playoffs, even if they end up being first-round fodder.

Of course, praise for Armstrong will grow much louder if the Blues finally make a leap. Maybe moving Stastny will help them move the needle?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.