Erik Karlsson is in a class all by himself


This is part of Ottawa Senators day at PHT…

Erik Karlsson didn’t get to take home his third Norris Trophy last season as the NHL’s top defenseman, finishing in second place behind Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. That should not take away from the fact the Senators’ captain is not only the most productive blue liner in the NHL right now, but is also on his way to being one of the best players of his era and one of the most prolific scoring defenseman to ever play in the NHL.

Already one of just 13 players to ever win the Norris Trophy more than once (all 11 retired players that have won it twice are in the Hall of Fame; Duncan Keith is the only other active player), Karlsson’s level of production is nearly unmatched in this or any other era of the NHL.

The numbers he puts up on a yearly basis are simply staggering, especially when you compare them to his peers in the NHL and how far away even the next best players are.

  • His 82 points in 2015-16 placed him fifth in the entire NHL among all players. It was good enough to make him the first defenseman in more than 30 years to finish in the top-5 in scoring in any season.
  • Over the past 20 seasons he is the only defenseman that has finished in the top-10 in scoring in any individual season. Karlsson has done it twice.
  • Over the past three seasons his 222 points are 58 more than any other defenseman in the NHL during that stretch. The gap between the No. 2 defenseman on that list, P.K. Subban, and the 32nd leading scoring, Jake Muzzin, is 59 points. He is 10th among all skaters during that stretch (right between Joe Thornton and John Tavares) and is the only defenseman in the top-45 and one of only three (Subban and Roman Josi) in the top-70.

It is an incredible level of dominance that the NHL hasn’t seen from a defenseman in decades. But even with all of that production, and even with two Norris Trophies already sitting in his trophy case and a very good chance that he can add at least one more in his career (if he does, he would be one of just nine players to win more than two), he still seems to be a little under-appreciated in the NHL as one of the game’s top players.

His defensive game is always a subject of criticism, but that is case with just about any high-risk, puck-moving, offensive defenseman. When they make a mistake, it is going to stand out more and be highlighted over and over again. But the plays they end up making because of that aggressive style of play usually end up outweighing “the big mistake plays.”

His lack of time on the penalty kill is also usually brought up as a negative mark against him. But there is nothing wrong with playing to a player’s strengths, and in Karlsson’s case that is clearly his ability to make plays with the puck and drive the Senators’ offense. Every minute you spend putting him into situations where he has to focus on defense is a minute he doesn’t have in a situation where he can make a difference.

The Senators are a tough team to get a read on at times. They are just one-year removed from a 99-point season and have some top-line talent sprinkled throughout their roster. But they followed that up by taking a big step backwards in 2015-16. Whether they are able to rebound in 2016 under first-year coach Guy Boucher remains to be seen, but no matter what they do as a team on the ice they will have one of this era’s best players skating for them every single night.