William Karlsson woke up last Monday morning fully aware of the craziness surrounding the NHL trading deadline. He just didn’t expect to be part of it.
Karlsson knew the Anaheim Ducks were gearing up for what they hope is a long Stanley Cup playoff run and had the potential to add some pieces, but the thought of being included in such a deal didn’t really cross his mind – until he got the phone call.
That call came shortly before the 3 p.m. ET deadline, letting him know that he was now a Columbus Blue Jacket. It kicked off a crazy week that saw Karlsson move from Norfolk, Va., up to Springfield, Mass. to meet a new group of teammates and join a Falcons team in the thick of a playoff race.
“It was a crazy week, that’s the best way to say it,” Karlsson told BlueJackets.com. “I was shocked (by the trade), to be honest with you. My phone blew up so I pretty much figured something had happened. Friends, family, people on Twitter…I was getting messages from everywhere. I knew it was the trading deadline and the Ducks were going for the Stanley Cup, so I guess nothing is out of the question.
“You never really expect to be traded, but everything has been good here so far.”
The 21-year-old from Marsta, Sweden, whose nickname is “Wild Bill” (given to him by the Ducks staff before it took off in the media), made his NHL debut earlier this season with the Ducks, but has spent the majority of his time in North America with Anaheim’s AHL affiliate in Norfolk. Karlsson had eight goals and 24 points in 37 games with the Admirals prior to the trade, primarily playing his natural center position.
As he gets acclimated and worked into the Falcons lineup, the Blue Jackets want him to play center and continue his development in the middle of the ice. This being only his first full season in the U.S., there’s still a lot for Karlsson to learn, particularly while playing a high-responsibility position.
“I try to play a two-way game and be a responsible centerman,” Karlsson said. “I like to produce offense when I can, and I like to keep a tight gap and be a good checker. I’m a passer, I guess you could say, and I try to use my head and see the ice and make plays. The game is a little faster here in North America so you always have to be on your toes.
“That’s the main thing, and it can be a big adjustment; things happen faster all over the ice so you have to be aware of where everyone is all the time.”
It’s a similar learning curve to that facing Blue Jackets rookie Alexander Wennberg, a friend of Karlsson’s and teammate on Sweden’s 2013 silver medal winning team at the World Junior Hockey Championship. Wennberg and Karlsson were part of a loaded Swedish side, featuring the likes of Elias Lindholm (Carolina), Filip Forsberg (Nashville), Victor Rask (Carolina) and Blue Jackets goalie prospect Oscar Dansk.
“He's a great player,” said Wennberg of Karlsson. “He's got so much skill and he plays a real solid game, I would say. He sees the ice real well, he can make plays and find guys and he can really shoot the puck, too.”
That was a fully-loaded Swedish team that lost the gold medal game to an equally stout U.S. squad, a game that capped off one of the most entertaining World Junior tournaments in recent memory. It was also the experience of a lifetime for Karlsson.
“The World Junior is a tournament that you don't get a lot of chances to play in, so you have to make the most of it,” Karlsson said. “It’s a big deal back home in Sweden, too, and the people love it there. Being around the team - it was a great team - was so much fun and it’s too bad we didn't win the gold medal. We were right there and just came up short in the final.”
Whether Wennberg and Karlsson are reunited in Columbus before season’s end remains to be seen. In the meantime, Karlsson said his focus will be helping the Falcons in any way he can, whether that’s 5-on-5, on the penalty kill or wherever coach Jared Bednar needs him.
He’ll also key on a few things the Ducks talked to him about, namely adding some weight and getting stronger.
“I need to add a few more pounds — that’s something to work on,” Karlsson said. “Overall, I think my game can get stronger as well as with some of the details like protecting the puck better and stuff like that, but the main thing I’m focusing on right now is my strength.
“(Playing pro hockey in Sweden) helped me a lot. It was a really good experience. You get to play against men at a very early age and it helps you develop. Even though you’re not always the strongest guy out there, you have to find ways to succeed and get to the open areas and make things happen.”