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Karlsson eager to shine with NHL's brightest stars

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson will make his NHL all-star game debut Jan. 30 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. He's set to become the 25th Ottawa player to take part in the league's annual mid-season classic (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

This time, Erik Karlsson admits, he'll happily change some weekend plans.

The Ottawa Senators defenceman couldn't contain his level of surprise when informed this morning by head coach Cory Clouston that he'd been selected to participate in the 2011 NHL all-star game, set for Jan. 30 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C. (video).

"I didn’t see it coming at all," Karlsson told shortly after hearing the news. "I made other plans (for that weekend) some time back, but they don’t matter much right now. It’s a great feeling. It’s something I never thought I would be a part of, especially this early in my career. I’m obviously very, very happy."

At 20 years old, the second-year defenceman is set to becomes the 25th Senators player to take part in the league's all-star game. Even though he ranks 15th among all NHL defencemen in scoring and is one point shy of matching his rookie season totals, Karlsson wasn't expecting to be recognized in this fashion.

"I don’t think I would have expected anything that has happened to me this year or even last year," said the native of Landsbro, Sweden. "It’s been great and I’ve had so much fun along the road. Right now, I don’t think I really understand that I’m going there."

Captain Daniel Alfredsson believes it's a selection that has been well-earned.

"It's great for him to be able to experience an all-star game," said Alfredsson, a five-time all-star selection himself. "He's been one of the bright spots in our season and has tremendous ability. Sometimes you forget that he's only 20 and sometimes you can see he's 20.

"He brings a lot of energy to us every day and he's one of those players who's going to get better and better."

Already, Karlsson is looking forward to rubbing shoulders with some of the game's best talent.

"It’s a great feeling," he said in Boston, where the Senators face off against the Bruins tonight at TD Garden (7 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). "You play against these guys and you battle on the ice … I’m a guy who tries to be happy and have fun all the time. But it’s going to be great to (play) alongside those players and maybe talk to them a bit and see how they are off the ice. I think it’s going to be just a great experience."

With eight goals and 25 points in 40 games, Karlsson trails only captain Daniel Alfredsson (13-13-26) in Senators team scoring. In 60 games last season, Karlsson totalled five goals and 26 points.

"I didn’t see it coming at all. I made other plans (for that weekend) some time back, but they don’t matter much right now. It’s a great feeling. It’s something I never thought I would be a part of, especially this early in my career. I’m obviously very, very happy." - Erik Karlsson
The all-star game, in which offence is at a premium, would seem to be well-suited for a player such as Karlsson, whose gifts in that area are many.

"He's definitely very comfortable with that type of game," said Alfredsson. "He’s playing more and more games in this league and he’s getting better at the other parts of the game — like defending and penalty killing — but he’s got a natural gift for making things happen offensively."

But both Clouston and Alfredsson believe that Karlsson's all-star selection is also a testament to his improvement at the other end of the ice.

"(Karlsson) is one of the best young skilled defencemen in the league," said Clouston. "But right now, we have no problem matching him up against the top lines as well ... He's had, for the most part, a real solid first part of the season. He's been a big part of our team and credit to him for the strides he's made as a player and credit to (Sens) management and the scouting staff for selecting him when they did (15th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft)."

Six players were originally chosen for the 2011 all-star game based on fan balloting: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, along with Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Another 36 players were announced as game participants today, along with 12 rookies who will participate in the NHL SuperSkills competition on Jan. 29.

As part of a new all-star game format, the traditional conference vs. conference matchup is being replaced with a player draft, to be held Jan. 28 (8 p.m., TSN) at the NHL Fan Fair at the Raleigh Convention Centre. Two sets of captains and alternate captains will choose the sides, splitting the 42 players into two squads consisting of three goaltenders, six defencemen and 12 forwards.

All-star weekend will come to Ottawa and Scotiabank Place for the first time in 2012.

Around the boards

With Alex Kovalev (knee) out for at least a week, the Senators have summoned forward Jim O'Brien from their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y., for a second stint with the big club. "Jimmy played well when he played for us the couple of games (he was up previously)," said Clouston. "He was one of our better players." Clouston added "there's a good chance we'll see maybe one or two more guys up here" from the farm the next few games ... Brian Elliott gets the start in goal tonight in Boston, with Binghamton callup Mike Brodeur dressing as the backup ... Defenceman Matt Carkner returns to the lineup tonight in place of Brian Lee ... B-Sens forwards Corey Locke and Bobby Butler have been named to the Eastern Conference roster for the 2011 AHL All-Star Classic, set for Jan. 31 in Hershey, Pa. ...  Weather issues will keep the Senators in Boston tonight, rather than their planned departure to New York in advance of Thursday's matchup with the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200). They'll practise Wednesday morning at Boston University before heading off to Long Island.

Check out the complete 2011 NHL all-star game rosters here.

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