|Senators prospect Erik Karlsson checks his fitness scores during the first day of the team's annual rookie camp at Scotiabank Place (Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photography/OSHC). |
The moment he has been anticipating for a lifetime is finally at hand.
Now it's up to Erik Karlsson
to make the biggest of hockey dreams become a reality.
With the opening of the Ottawa Senators' annual rookie camp on Saturday morning at Scotiabank Place, it's officially game on in the 20-year-old Swedish defenceman's bid to land a spot on the team's opening-day roster.
An exciting time for a hockey-loving teenager? You bet.
"I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time now," said Karlsson, the Senators' top pick (15th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. "It’s been a long off-season for me. I’m really excited to go away and play some games (in next week's rookie tournament in Kitchener)."
Karlsson and 22 other prospects underwent a battery of physical and medical tests today before hitting the ice at the Bell Sensplex in the afternoon. After another on-ice session on Sunday morning, it's off to Kitchener for a rookie tourney that will also include top prospects from the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and host Toronto Maple Leafs.
While forwards Zack Smith
and Peter Regin
figure to be in the mix for a roster position when Senators main camp opens Sept. 12, it's Karlsson that is front and centre in the mind of Senators management. General manager Bryan Murray said earlier this week that Karlsson "will be given every chance" to start the season in Ottawa.
Karlsson knows it's up to him to earn that opportunity.
"I’m going to do my best," he said. "I hope that I play as good as I can so that I get a fair chance to make the team. I will do everything I can to make the team.
"I’ve dreamt about (playing in the National Hockey League) since I was a kid, but I don’t think I realized I would be able to do it until maybe this summer, that I would have a chance to make it. Now it’s really up to me to make that dream come true or not."
Size has always been the issue with Karlsson, who was listed at 5-foot-11 and a mere 156 pounds on his draft day 14 months ago. But he's now a 172-pounder who has made significant gains in strength while maintaining the mobility that is a key to the dynamic offensive side of his game.
"He's not going to be a big guy in the league and never will be, but he brings a dimension to our team that is real special," said Murray. "He's got a huge shot and he's a real smart power-play type of player. If he can handle it mentally and physically in training camp, he will get a chance to play here for sure."
Said Karlsson: "I worked hard on gaining some weight but not too much weight, so I still have my mobility and everything. I think I accomplished that during the off-ice (training), now I just have to see if I’ve done enough to be as good as I want to be on the ice."
Even during informal scrimmages involving a number of Senators players, goaltender Pascal Leclaire has noticed an uncommon poise that Karlsson displays.
"What's impressive for a young guy is that – even if it's just scrimmages right now and it's not real hockey – you can see he's got a calm to him," said Leclaire. "He always seems to be in control and his head's in the right place. He doesn't rush his plays. When a player has that, he usually has it when the games are for real.
"He seems to be able to control the play when he has the puck. He's pretty smart out there and I'm sure he'll do well in training camp."
"I’m going to do my best. I hope that I play as good as I can so that I get a fair chance to make the team. I will do everything I can to make the team. I’ve dreamt about (playing in the National Hockey League) since I was a kid, but I don’t think I realized I would be able to do it until maybe this summer, that I would have a chance to make it. Now it’s really up to me to make that dream come true or not." - Erik Karlsson
An eager Karlsson returned to Ottawa two weeks ago to begin the final work for this big moment. He believes he is "well prepared for what is to come," adding the chance to skate with Senators veterans has given him a sense of what it'll take to make the team.
"You can see how really skilled they are," said Karlsson. "Even though it was just a scrimmage and more like fun, you can still see they have a little bit extra than some other guys. It was good for me to see that."
Already, he's got the sense that he'll be a good fit with the rest of the team.
"I think (the veteran players) like me. I don’t know, maybe they’re just lying to me," Karlsson said with a grin. "But I don’t think so. Everybody’s been really great."
Leclaire doesn't doubt the rest of the Senators will welcome what Karlsson can bring to their lineup, whether it's this season or a little bit further down the road.
"I'm sure (Karlsson) wants to show that he belongs," said Leclaire. "I think he's already been accepted by the guys in the dressing room. He shows up here early, he works hard and he wants to get better. He listens when guys give him tips and stuff, so he's really open-minded and he shows that he wants to be here.
"He looks like he's got some great skills and will definitely help us in the future."