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Ottawa's Karlsson rocking stat sheet and ASG vote

Tuesday, 12.06.2011 / 1:00 PM / 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game

By Erin Nicks - NHL.com Correspondent

Erik Karlsson, just 21, has taken the Ottawa Senators by storm, blossoming into an offensive powerhouse, a veteran defenseman and a leader among his peers this season.

None of this comes as a surprise to general manager Bryan Murray.

"I expected everything," Murray said.

In his third year with the Senators after being selected at No. 15 in the 2008 Entry Draft, Karlsson has taken the next step in having his name mentioned among the upper echelon of NHL defensemen. He currently sits second (tied with Daniel Sedin and Brian Campbell) among all players in assists with 21 and is tied for first place -- again with Campbell -- for points scored by defensemen.

"I think he's one of the top young guys in the League on defense," Murray said. "I think there's some tremendous young players in this League, but I think Erik's among the whole group of them, whether it be on defense or forward."

All-Star game voters, it seems, agree with Murray's assessment. Karlsson is the leading vote-getter among defensemen after three weeks of voting, garnering more than 350,000 votes. Overall, his vote total trails only Toronto forward Phil Kessel.

With Karlsson already on pace to exceed his career-best 45 points from this past season and a virtual lock for his second-straight All-Star game appearance, it hardly seems presumptuous to label 2011-12 as the Swede's breakout year.

Murray believes the time the Swedish youngster has spent with the team -- including its American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton -- has served him well.

"Erik's a maturing player," Murray told NHL.com. "His first year here he was up and down from the minors. Last year he played (and) he was a very important member of our hockey team, and I think as a lot of young players have had happen for them, he's now developed into a better player, a more productive player, and certainly a much more important player for the Ottawa Senators.

"He's obviously a young rising star in the National Hockey League. Breakout year? It's probably going to be his best year (to date) if everything stays as is, and he doesn't get injured. It's certainly the best at this point in time."

Erik Karlsson
Defense - OTT
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 21 | PTS: 23
SOG: 86 | +/-: -2
Karlsson himself acknowledges that time in the NHL has been the difference in his game.

"I think it's mostly about experience, and obviously I'm two years older," Karlsson told NHL.com. "You play a lot more games; you get used to it. And you know the way a game is played, and you've played against all the guys before. After a while, you figure it out and what you need to do to be successful."

Karlsson has also focused on his strength training, giving it special attention during the summer after the Senators failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. 

"I've been working out; I've worked hard ever since I came here," he said. "It was a long summer for us, so I had a lot of time to work on my body, physically. I may not look much bigger -- I've always been wiry -- but I feel way better. I think for some young guys it takes a few years, but some jump right in. It's unbelievable. If your body isn't healthy and in control, you might lose some of your potential."

While the results might not be apparent to the casual eye, Ottawa management has noticed Karlsson's physical changes.

"I think he's stronger and his confidence level is much higher," Murray said. "I think we'll see him grow into something bigger and better as we go forward."

The GM has also seen his young star thrive under the tutelage of his new coach, Paul MacLean.

"He's getting a lot of minutes," Murray said. "He's getting the opportunity to play most of the power plays, and he's been the offensive catalyst from the back end because Paul knows that he brings that kind of dimension to our team. I think our team has grown under Paul, and Erik in particular."

The coach admits to having his hand forced, at least early, by Karlsson's reputation as a budding star.

"When I talked to people, they said he was an outstanding skater," MacLean told NHL.com. "That's the one thing he's really done here as a skater, his first step with the puck is outstanding. And my expectation was that I wasn't sure how good he was going to be, but I knew that he could skate. Give him a chance and he'll turn into a special player."

Murray was aware he had something special in the Swede, but he also admitted that Karlsson's skating has exceeded his expectations.

"I certainly thought he was going to be a good player," Murray said. "His mobility, his speed with the puck, and for a small man he shoots the puck extremely hard. I would say his skating is the most pleasant part of what's happened to him."

Murray knew what he was getting with the Karlsson on the ice, but according to the GM, his off-ice attributes are just as appealing, especially his confidence.

"I think he thought he could step into the National Hockey League after playing in the Swedish Elite League as a youngster," Murray said. "It took him a little time, but he is that kind of person. He's a very outgoing young man; he's a guy who I think feels like he's been around a little longer than three years. He's also a great teammate and a very positive guy, and when you're productive I think you have that tendency to be that way.

"We don't have a lot of carryover on this team -- we've had a lot of changes. So he is one of the important veteran guys, even as a third-year player and at 21 years old. He's one of those guys we count on."

As Karlsson's star continues to rise, the Senators will continue to nurture their blue-chip defenseman as they always have, in the hopes that the sky is the limit -- for both his talent and his ability to lead by example.

"I'm very proud," Murray said. "And I think Erik's very proud of what he's going to be in this League."