Pierre Dorion can smile rather easily now as he tells a favourite story about his team's emerging young superstar.
The Senators' player personnel director flashes back to the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place, when Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray made a deal to move up three spots to the No. 15 slot in the first round.
"When I turned to Bryan and said 'we're going to take Erik Karlsson,' he said 'how long do you want to work for me?'" a grinning Dorion said of a defenceman who, at the time, was a shade less than 5-11 and weighed 161 pounds.
As the entire National Hockey League knows by now, that pick turned out to be way beyond shrewd for Murray, Dorion and the Senators — Dorion calls it "probably one of the greatest things we did for our franchise." Further evidence of that arrives tonight, when the 22-year-old Karlsson attends the 2012 NHL Awards as a finalist for the James Norris Trophy, presented annually to the league's top defenceman.
Karlsson, who lit up the NHL with a 78-point season that was 25 better than any other blueliner in the league, finds himself up against Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators and Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins. And two other Senators also nominated for awards can't imagine anyone but the flashy Swede from Gothenburg, who inked a new seven-year contract on Tuesday, carting home the hardware.
"His dimension of skill, skating and speed from the back end hasn't really been seen (in the NHL) since Paul Coffey did it for the Oilers all through the '80s," said Senators head coach Paul MacLean, a finalist for the Jack Adams Awards as the league's top coach. "And I know that skating ability separates Erik from the two guys he's (against). I think the point total separates him. The fact that he's a plus player ... he might defend differently than the other two guys, but he still played against the other team's best players every night and that's an indication of being Norris Trophy worthy."
It's a sentiment seconded by Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, a finalist for the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the player best displaying perseverance and dedication to hockey.
"Statistically, it was an unbelievable season (for him) ... better than a defenceman has done in a long time," said Alfredsson. "I don't think I've ever seen anybody faster than him on the ice. For his size, he's got unbelievable balance, he's extremely strong, and that allows him to excel the way he has.
"It's been a spectacular season and I can't see him not winning."
MacLean, meanwhile, is quick to throw his support behind Alfredsson, who rebounded from a career-threatening back ailment to have a strong season that included 27 goals — his highest total in four seasons. But it's not numbers that impress MacLean the most.
"It's his pride in himself," the Senators coach said of his captain. "He wants to be good, he expects himself to be good and his work ethic has been exemplary. He has a burning desire to be successful and to play, and that's what you need to be in this league and have longevity in this league."
"We have three people up for individual awards in the National Hockey League. What that tells you is that your team played well this year and played real consistently. For three members of our team to be up for awards is a great credit to the hard work of our coaching staff and our training staff and our equipment staff and our players. The team had great success and was consistent throughout the year and that's led to these nominations. And we're all real proud to be here." - Paul MacLean
While MacLean prefers to share — or even deflect — credit for the Senators' success in 2011-12, both Karlsson and Alfredsson are quick to suggest none of it would have been possible without the man directing the show from behind the bench.
"Paul coming in has been terrific for the whole team," said Karlsson. "He really pulled everyone together and it's been a fun year for everyone. We took ourselves to the playoffs and that's where we want to be. The way he thinks hockey and the way he is as a person ... he's really fitting in with everyone in the organization and I'm very pleased to have him with us."
Added Alfredsson: "Paul has done an unbelievable job. I don't know if he knows how much he meant, because he didn't know what went on before and how much we struggled. He did a really good job with getting everybody on board and making everybody feel like they were an important part of it and pushing themselves. It wasn't just four or five guys that were driving the train every night. He made it so that we got contributions from everybody."
MacLean, for his part, said the fact the Senators have three nominees for the 2012 NHL Awards speaks volumes about the kind of season the team enjoyed as a whole.
"We have three people up for individual awards in the National Hockey League," he said. "What that tells you is that your team played well this year and played real consistently. For three members of our team to be up for awards is a great credit to the hard work of our coaching staff and our training staff and our equipment staff and our players.
"The team had great success and was consistent throughout the year and that's led to these nominations. And we're all real proud to be here."
NHL Awards programming note
The 2012 NHL Awards are being televised by CBC at 8 p.m. local time in Canada (8:30 in Newfoundland/Labrador). However, fans can watch a live stream of the ceremonies at 7 p.m. ET on www.cbcsports.ca. In the United States, the NBC Sports Network is carrying the event live at 7 p.m.