|Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson has seen his hockey life change in many ways since he starred for Sweden at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship held in Ottawa last year (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).
A year ago, he was just beginning to get his feet wet in what would soon become his new hockey home.
What a 12-month journey it has been for Erik Karlsson
since the Swedish teenager made his first big impression upon hockey fans in Ottawa at the IIHF 2009 World Junior Championship.
The gifted blueliner with the impressive package of offensive skills was named the top defenceman in the tournament after helping lead the Tre Kronor to the gold-medal game against Canada, which went on to win its fifth straight world junior title.
It was another one of those Scotiabank Place memories for Karlsson, who made another one last Saturday night when he scored his first National Hockey League goal in a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild. This time, he heard the kind of cheers that were saved only for the opposition in the world junior final – even if the bulk of the fans on hand that January night knew he’d be theirs to embrace soon enough.
However, it has been anything but a straight line since then for Karlsson, who was also drafted into the NHL at Scotiabank Place when the Senators made him the 15th overall pick of the 2008 entry draft.
“It’s been a long year,” Karlsson admitted with a rueful smile as he contemplated where hockey has taken him since the thrill of a world journey tourney that smashed all-time attendance records.
“Last year at this time, I didn’t really have a spot on the team in the Elitserien (Swedish Elite League) for Frolunda. I was playing in Boras (in the Allsvenskan, or second level, of Swedish hockey). Then I went to the world juniors.”
That tournament, Karlsson says now, did a lot to help prepare him for hockey life in Canada, where the game is a passion like nowhere else.
“It opened my eyes in a big way,” said Karlsson. “I got to see how it works a little bit more and what I needed to be prepared for when I came here. Also, I thought it was good for me to meet everyone over here. (The Senators) got the chance to see me and I got to see the town and everything like that.
“Playing in this building … it was a really, really good experience for me last year, I think, at the world juniors.”
The electric atmosphere at the 2009 WJC also further fuelled Karlsson’s desire to make the move to North America and live out his hockey dream.
“When you were here, you kind of felt this is the place you wanted to be and this is where you’re going to be,” he said. “It was good that the world juniors were here. I learned a little bit about how the town works and what to expect from the weather and things like that. So I think it really did good (things for me).”
"It opened my eyes in a big way. I got to see how it works a little bit more and what I needed to be prepared for when I came here. Also, I thought it was good for me to meet everyone over here. (The Senators) got the chance to see me and I got to see the town and everything like that. Playing in this building ... it was a really, really good experience for me last year, I think, at the world juniors." - Erik Karlsson
But while Senators prospects Andre Petersson and Jacob Silfverberg try to bring hockey glory to Sweden at the 2010 world juniors in Saskatchewan starting later this week, Karlsson will continue to build his NHL future in Ottawa. It’s a path that took a slight detour from the capital to the Binghamton Senators and the American Hockey League last month, but one that now sees him growing more comfortable with each passing day since his recall to Ottawa on Nov. 27.
“I gain a little bit of experience every day here,” said Karlsson. “It’s been awhile since I came over (from Sweden) now, so I think it’s natural that I got a little bit more experience and that I know the (NHL) game a little bit more. You feel a bit calmer out there and also in here (the dressing room).
“You get to know the guys a little better. The guys have been so good (to me) and I think that’s helped me a lot.”
They were elated for him on Saturday, when his blast from the point eluded Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom. It’s a moment Karlsson won’t soon forget, though he keeps it in perspective.
“It was really good (to score) because we won a game that we needed to win,” he said. “It’s always fun to score when you win the game. But I try not to put too much focus on scoring goals. I’ve got too many other things that I’ve got to do first, but it’s always good to get one.
“Everybody remembers their first goal, no matter how old they are. It was a big thing for me to do.”