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Karlsson knows he's capable of producing more for Golden Knights

Center has three points in past 14 games, scored 43 goals last season

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

DETROIT -- Remember the William Karlsson who put up gaudy numbers for the Vegas Golden Knights last season? The 6-foot-1, 189-pound center with the confidence and skill to make flashy plays?

"I think he's still there," Karlsson said with a little smile.

He resurfaced at a key moment Tuesday, pulling the puck between his legs on the rush and backhanding a pass across the low slot. Linemate Valentin Zykov banged the puck into the net, and Vegas tied the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-2 in the third period.

The Golden Knights went on to win 3-2 in a shootout at Amalie Arena, defeating the top team in the NHL to end a four-game losing streak. They play the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-D, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV).

"It was good for the confidence to get that assist," Karlsson said. "Finally, something in my favor, and feeling good. So hopefully I can bring that into the next game and keep working from there and try to be a producing player again."

Video: VGK@TBL: Zykov nets Karlsson's feed to tie game

Karlsson was the most magical story amid the most magical story in sports last season.

After the Golden Knights claimed him from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, he had 43 goals, 34 more than ever before in the NHL; 35 assists, 16 more than ever before; and 78 points, 53 more than ever before. He was plus-49, first in the League, and won the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship and performance.

He was a big reason the Vegas shattered records for first-year teams, finished fifth in the NHL standings and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Washington Capitals in five games.

But even then, the question was if it was too good to be true. How did a player who had never scored more than nine goals in a season suddenly score 43, third in the NHL, even if he got the chance to be a No. 1 center for the first time? His shooting percentage was 23.4, 15.7 higher than his previous career average. No one else with at least 20 goals was higher than 19.2.

Late last season, he said, "One year doesn't make a career, you know? I will for sure be hungry next year to prove that I can do it again, both for myself and to other people."

In the offseason, after signing a one-year, $5.25 million contract as a restricted free agent, he said, "It's me betting on myself a little. … I believe I can have another productive year, show that last season was no fluke and earn something long-term."

Well, regression has struck, as it has for some of his teammates -- particularly his usual linemates, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith -- and Vegas as a whole. Through 55 games, Karlsson has 16 goals, 17 assists and 33 points, and he's minus-8. His assist Tuesday was his second in 14 games; he has one goal in the same span. He's averaging 2.05 shots per game, not far off the 2.24 he averaged last season, but his shooting percentage has dropped to 14.2.

"Maybe I didn't expect myself to score 43 goals again," Karlsson said. "It's only really [Capitals forward Alex] Ovechkin that can keep scoring so many goals every year. But obviously I'd like to have more points by now."

Video: NYI@VGK: Karlsson sends wrister past Greiss

Karlsson did not use the contract situation as an excuse.

"I don't think about it too much," Karlsson said. "I mean, obviously it's staying in the back of my head, to be honest. But it's nothing that I can blame to weigh me down, because it's not why I haven't scored as much as last year. It's up to myself, really. So now I think it's more on me that I haven't produced like I have last year."

Here's the good news: Vegas is taking 52.64 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts when Karlsson is on the ice; the number was 53.06 last season. In other words, his puck possession is about the same.

"It's not only that he makes those right plays offensively," Marchessault said. "He's unbelievable defensively. We play well defensively, and I think we take a lot of pride in that. We want to be in those matchups that you play against the best players in the world every night."

Karlsson is still on pace for 24 goals, 25 assists and 49 points. Those numbers look bad only because last season's numbers were so good. Had they been his totals last season, they would have shattered his NHL career highs.

"We could care less about last year now," general manager George McPhee said. "We're looking at what we have now, and we have a very good 200-foot center with good size. He plays both ends of the rink really well. We'd be delighted to have him score 25 goals this year. It would be good for him and good for us."

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