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'Emotional' Karlsson hears Bingo call

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Rookie defenceman Erik Karlsson will continue the next step of his development with the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League (Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).

The next chapter in Erik Karlsson's hockey development will be written in the American Hockey League.

Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray announced today that the Swedish blueliner has been assigned to the Binghamton Senators, the club's top minor affiliate. The move prevents – for the time being, at least – the triggering of the first year of Karlsson's entry-level contract in the National Hockey League.

It had been believed that could only happen if the 19-year-old Karlsson was loaned to the Frolunda Indians, his former team in the Swedish Elite League. But Murray gained clarification from the NHL that moving him to Binghamton would achieve the same result.

In the eyes of Senators management, Binghamton is the right place at the moment for the club's top pick (15th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. While Karlsson has added strength and weight since draft day, at 5-11 and 175 pounds there are still concerns that he's ready to handle the physical side of the NHL game on a nightly basis.

"We're doing it so that Erik gets a chance to gain that experience and get exposure to the grind of playing pro hockey," said Murray. "(It's about) being competitive every night and being important on the team. He can’t have the same kind of importance here with the veterans that we have. (He can) be important down there and be a key guy on the power play.

"This is a process that most young players have to go through. We’re hoping that when we bring him up – whenever that might be – that he will be a better player and we believe that he will be a better player."

Captain Daniel Alfredsson, who has had Karlsson living with him for the last six weeks, agreed his long-term development should come first.

"His development is probably the most important thing," Alfredsson said before learning the news himself. "Not how he's playing today, but what's best for him going forward."

Karlsson was "quite emotional" about receiving the news of his demotion, Murray said, "but I think every young player that gets a start in the NHL and then at some point has to go down is not a happy camper. We wouldn’t expect him to be."

With veteran Filip Kuba expected to return to the lineup Wednesday night in Sunrise, Fla., against the Panthers (7:30 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200), the Senators needed to make a move on defence. And the emergence of Matt Carkner, combined with the solid play of Alex Picard, combined to put a further squeeze on Karlsson in terms of how much playing time he might get at the moment in Ottawa. During his nine games in Ottawa, Karlsson averaged 17:25 of ice time, produced three assists and had a minus-4 rating.

"Numbers always do that," said Murray. "We believe that (Karlsson) is going to be a very good offensive player in the league. We wanted to see him play games to start the year here. As the series of games went on ... the last couple in particular, I thought he was quite good.

"But I talked to the coaches and asked ‘are we going to be able to play this young player a lot as we go forward and win?’ It’s easier (to do that) if you have experience and you have veterans playing. We’ve got Filip coming back into the lineup and we have more assurance that would be the case (with him)."

While sending Karlsson back to Sweden was an option, Murray believes there is more to be gained by keeping him close by in Binghamton, where his development can be more closely monitored.

"The physical part, the travel, the grind of playing pro hockey, the quickness required on the smaller ice surface in Binghamton … all of those things are reasons now for doing what we’re doing," said Murray, who expects Karlsson to be in the lineup for the B-Sens on Friday night, when they face off against the Rochester Americans at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.

Karlsson has also been told the Senators will allow him to suit up for Sweden at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Saskatoon and Regina, if he's still in the AHL when that event rolls around. At the 2008 world juniors in Ottawa, Karlsson was named the top defenceman in the tournament and made the all-star team.

While a recall for even one game would trigger Karlsson's NHL entry-level contract, Murray said "that will not be a factor in what we're trying to do."

"If he goes down there and plays well, he's in line to be called up like anybody is," he said.

Around the boards

Centre Peter Regin and goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who have endured bouts of the flu over the past few days, were both on the practice ice today at Scotiabank Place and are expected to be available to face the Panthers ... The Senators conclude a mini two-game road trip Thursday night in Tampa against the Lightning (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200), then return home to face the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday ... Fewer than 3,000 tickets remain for the Halloween matinee affair, which is also a Subway Savings game, with all regular-priced tickets available at 20 per cent off.

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