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Karlsson hitting his stride with Sens

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Swedish rookie Erik Karlsson's burgeoning talent continues to grow with each game he plays on the Ottawa Senators blue line (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Check out the NHL's game notes for tonight's Ottawa-Buffalo matchup.

You see it in the way he carries himself, whether it's on a breath-taking dash up the ice or with a sharp pass that sets up an overtime game-winner.

Even as he sits at his stall in the Ottawa Senators dressing room, there is a certain air that exudes from rookie defenceman Erik Karlsson. A growing confidence and real sense of belonging, if you will.

While he isn't ready to suggest just yet that he finally feels at home in the National Hockey League, the 19-year-old native of Landsbro, Sweden, surely must know that day is now  just around the corner. Even if it hasn't always been in the straightest of lines.

"I knew that I wasn't ready to play in the NHL when I came (to Ottawa)," Karlsson said in reflecting on the journey that has taken him to this point. "But right now, it feels like I made the right decision and the team made the right decision to keep me. Everything feels good, but I’ve just got to keep going and don’t fall off the track."

There has been little lately to suggest that will be an issue. Consider the Senators' last game, a 3-2 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens in which Karlsson logged a team-high 24:51 of ice time and launched the stretch pass that set up Mike Fisher's game-winning goal in overtime.

That Karlsson was on the ice in a 3-on-3 situation in the extra period with the game on the line also spoke volumes about the confidence the Senators coaching staff now has in its young blueline prodigy at both ends of the ice.

"He's a lot more responsible in the neutral zone," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "He's a lot more intelligent on his reads and he just has a real nice feel for the game right now."

"I knew that I wasn't ready to play in the NHL when I came (to Ottawa). But right now, it feels like I made the right decision and the team made the right decision to keep me. Everything feels good, but I’ve just got to keep going and don’t fall off the track." - Erik Karlsson
Karlsson's improved play also happens to mirror that of his teammates. During the Senators current franchise-record nine-game winning streak — which they'll aim to stretch to 10 tonight in Buffalo against the Sabres (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200) — Karlsson's plus-minus rating has been an impressive plus-7. Heady stuff, indeed, for a guy whose number sat at minus-13 not that long ago.

"I feel good out there and I think the whole team feels good out there," he said. "We're playing pretty well right now and it's definitely fun to be a part of that."

While his close relationship with Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, a fellow Swede, is well-documented, Karlsson also believes he's had a room full of support behind him. There is no measuring the difference it has made in his development.

"I think every guy in here has helped me a lot to be the player that I am today," said Karlsson. "It’s all about experience. Every day, I gain something new. Every game is a new experience and the more experience you gain, the better your game becomes."

The Senators, who made Karlsson the 15th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, believe Karlsson is merely scratching the surface of his potential. He was chosen to be, among other things, the team's eventual power-play quarterback and already appears headed in that direction.

"(Karlsson) went mid-round, but we thought he was a better talent than that," Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray said in a radio interview with the Team 1200 last week. "We were very high on him. Our amateur staff did a great job knowing him and his potential.

"We thought, with his talent base and skill set, that he could step in (to our lineup) in one or two years and he’s done that. I hope I’m still around here when he’s 23 because he’s going to be fun to watch."

"He's a lot more responsible in the neutral zone. He's a lot more intelligent on his reads and he just has a real nice feel for the game right now." - Cory Clouston
It hasn't always been the smoothest of rides. Back in October, Karlsson was demoted to the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League. While he returned to Ottawa a month later, he also endured a few nights of watching the games from the press box as a healthy scratch.

"I got sent down and that was a really important time for me as well," said Karlsson. "It was a little bit of a struggle down there. I had to play well to get back up here. Then I had to sit out for a few games up here and that made me (better), too. Now I know how that is and I don’t want to do it again. I want to keep it going."

Even in terms of confidence, it's clear Karlsson has grown by leaps and bounds since then. Finally, he feels a comfort zone in just about everything he now attempts on the ice.

"When you feel better and you feel your game is better, you’re doing things that you normally do," said Karlsson. "At the beginning of the season, it was mostly (a feeling) of ‘don’t screw up.’ I thought about that too much and I didn’t really play my game at the beginning of the season.

"Now I think I’ve found my game a little bit more. I’m still not quite there, but I’m getting there. Everything feels pretty good right now."

Around the boards


Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza and Filip Kuba all found the back the net in their first games back from the injury list in recent weeks. So does that mean Jesse Winchester (knee) will be lighting the lamp at HSBC Arena tonight? "I'd love to," Winchester said with a laugh after the Senators' pre-game skate earlier today. "We'll see what happens. You get a little extra energy any time you come back and sometimes it turns into good fortune. Hopefully, that happens tonight, but I'm just looking to play solid, do my job and help the team win that way." ... Winchester draws into the lineup to replace the injured Nick Foligno (broken leg), while Shean Donovan and Alex Picard will again be healthy scratches ... Brian Elliott takes aim at his eighth straight win in goal ... Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for the Vancouver Canucks lone visit of the season to Scotiabank Place on Thursday night (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).

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