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Norris nomination 'big honour' for Sens blueliner

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
At 21 years old, Senators defenceman has earned his first nomination for the James Norris Trophy as the NHL's top blueliner (Matthew Healy/OSHC).

It's the kind of season that simply couldn't be ignored.

Just ask Erik Karlsson's teammates, who will tell you the Ottawa Senators blueliner is full value for his new, elevated status — one of three finalists for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, presented annually to the National Hockey League's best defenceman.

Members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, whose votes determine the winner, also included Shea Weber of Nashville Predators and Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins in that elite group. Ironically, Chara, who won the award three years ago, was the last Senators blueliner to be named a finalist for the Norris back in 2003-04.

"I'm really happy for him," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said after hearing the news about his fellow Swede. "He's had an unbelievable year and he's one of the big reasons we are in this position (facing the New York Rangers in Game 7 tonight). He's worked hard and he's progressed really quick. It's great for him."

Senators centre Jason Spezza went one step further, saying Karlsson "has had a great season and deserves to win the Norris. He's the engine that drives us from the back end. He just does a lot of real good things."

The 21-year-old Karlsson's season has indeed been one for the ages, filled with some epic numbers that haven't been seen in years. His 78 points are the most produced by an NHL blueliner since 2005-06, when seven-time Norris winner Nick Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings totalled 80. Karlsson's total was also 25 points better than the next highest-scoring defenceman (Dustin Byfuglien of the Winnipeg Jets), the largest gap since Pittsburgh's Paul Coffey did so by 38 points in 1988-89.

Karlsson's point and assist (59) totals also shattered moden franchise standards previously set by Norm Maciver way back in 1992-93, the Senators' expansion season. Showing his two-way ability, Karlsson led the NHL in takeaways and posted a +16 rating, a huge jump over the -30 he recorded last season.

"It's been a good year," admitted Karlsson. "I'm very proud and it's a big honour to be named (a Norris finalist), especially with the guys that are out there ... It feels good to be up there. It's not something I counted on going into the season."

Neither did Senators head coach Paul MacLean, who inherited Karlsson in his first year behind the Ottawa bench. But one quality about the young blueliner was hugely obvious.

"I just knew that he could skate real good," MacLean said in pointing out Karlsson's best and most important quality. "I knew that if we could get him to be active and to skate, he had the opportunity and the skills to be a very good player. I don't know if we felt at that time that he would be good enough to be a Norris candidate, but he's certainly played well enough this season to be a legitimate candidate and we're real happy for him."

Karlsson is quick to share the credit, pointing out that the Senators' rise to playoff contention goes hand-in-hand with his own personal success. He pointed specifically to his blue-line partner, Filip Kuba, who had a terrific rebound season.

"I never imagined (this) would happen," he said of the Norris nomination. "We've done a good job playing good hockey and some guys on this team had outstanding years. I've just been contributing a bit.

"(Kuba) has helped me in a lot of different ways and we connect out there very well. We know what to expect from each other, where to be at certain times and when to back each other up. I couldn't have done much without him or anyone else on the team."

The Norris winner will be announced at the NHL Awards gala in Las Vegas on June 20.

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