The best defenseman of this generation

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Credit: NHL.com

The Norris trophy is the trophy given to the top “defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-around ability in the position”. If Erik Karlsson doesn’t come to mind after reading that, there is a problem. Karlsson is criticized for being a one-dimensional defenseman and a liability in his own zone, but people don’t take the time to watch him play and often underestimate the impact his has in his own end.

The current NHL is one where goals are hard to come by. We aren’t seeing many players over one point-per-game in a season. In 2015-2016, the only players who averaged 1.00P/GP were forwards Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn, Sidney Crosby, Joe Thornton and defenseman Erik Karlsson.

One of Karlsson’s biggest assets is his skating. He is one of the best skaters in the NHL, he is explosive and can maneuver through opposing players with such ease. This also explains why he logs over 27 minutes of ice-time per game and is currently second in overall ice-time amongst defensemen behind Dustin Byfuglien. He is also relied upon in special teams situations, playing big minutes on the powerplay (obviously) and on the penalty kill (over 2mins/gp).

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What people fail to realize is that Karlsson can single-handedly dictate the pace of a game. This season, he is still scoring at a point-per-game pace (7 goals, 20 assists) and is showing no signs of slowing down. With a goal and two assists against the Sharks the other night, Karlsson became the highest scoring defenseman in Ottawa Senators history, he is only 26 years old.

Despite having mediocre possession numbers this season (46.8 CF% and 47.8 FF%), Karlsson is usually on the dominant side (above 50% in both corsi and fenwick categories). He is also leading the NHL in blocked shots with 78 and is fourth in takeaways amongst defenseman with 20. Karlsson’s impact at 5-vs-5 is also the best in the league for defensemen.

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Credit: sportsnet

This chart demonstrates the dominance that #65 displays almost every night. He drives the play and creates chances every time he is on the ice. In 2016, teams are now focusing on moving the puck up the ice as fast as possible. The transition game is important nowadays and puck-moving defensemen are rapidly increasing. A player who can exit the zone and put a perfect outlet pass on a forwards stick is a luxury to have, which explains why so many teams are drafting smooth-skating defensemen who can move the puck quickly.

One of the most underrated parts of Karlsson’s game is his ability to get the puck on net. The way he positions himself to take a shot and put it through bodies is simply outstanding. It is an integral part of a defenseman’s game. Nobody is better at doing this than Erik Karlsson. Another play that he practices a lot is the slap pass, he is one of the best at doing that as well. Here are some examples:

 Despite what people say, Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the National Hockey League. His defensive game is severely underrated and people only see his offensive statistics. He is the best point-producer on the back end, the numbers speak for themselves. But just because Karlsson turns the puck over (which will happen often when you play over 27 minutes a night) or doesn’t hit as hard as other players, doesn’t make him a defensive liability. I’m sure every general manager in the league wished they had a player like him on their blue line and don’t be shocked to see him in the Norris trophy candidates at the end of the season.

 

Brandon Murphy – @2murphy8

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