Karlsson healthy again, producing at elite rate with Sharks

He deserved it.

The San Jose Sharks defenseman is on pace for what would be the best statistical season of his NHL career and is an early favorite for the Norris Trophy, the prize he won in 2012 and 2015 when he was voted the league’s best defender. The 32-year-old leads NHL defensemen with 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 26 games and is on course to finish with 100 points.

What was the key to its resurgence? Why was he able to reach those heights again after struggling (at least by his standards) over the past few seasons?

When asked those questions by NHL.com as he walked to the Sharks bus after a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday, he smirked.

“Because it’s me,” he said confidently. “Because that’s the player I am. Because that’s how I play. Because that’s how I should play.”

It’s the way we’ve all seen him play before, especially during his days with the Ottawa Senators. Karlsson played his first nine NHL seasons in Canada’s capital, won the Norris Trophy twice and had a career-high 82 points (16 goals, 66 assists) in the NHL in 2015-16.

He’ll be back in Ottawa on Saturday when the Sharks take on the Senators at the Canadian Tire Center (7 p.m. ET; SN1, CITY, TVAS2, NBCSCA, ESPN+, SN NOW), where he wowed fans so many times from 2009-18.

“Physically I’m in a good position where I think I can still do the things I did in my twenties,” Karlsson said.

It’s been a tough journey so far due to various injuries. When asked how he managed to overcome them, he laughed.

“If I had known, I would have done it sooner,” he said. “I’ve been feeling good for a while now, and obviously it’s clicking a little more now.”

It was about time, considering what he went through.

Last season, he underwent surgery for a torn muscle in his forearm. This follows a broken thumb in 2020-21.

In 2017, doctors removed part of his ankle and replaced it with an artificial tendon, a procedure that affected his skating. Also, don’t forget that his Achilles tendon was sliced ​​by the skate of Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013, an accident that left concerns about his ability to skate with the same fluidity again.

Video: DET@SJS: Karlsson scores 11th of the season in 3rd period

With Karlsson one season away from unrestricted free agency, the Senators traded him and forward Francis Perron to the Sharks on Sept. 13, 2018, for forwards Chris Tierney and Rudolf Balzerdefender Dylan DeMelothe rights to unsigned forward Joshua Norris, a first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft (forward Tim Stutzle), a second-round pick in the 2019 draft and two conditional draft picks.

He signed an eight-year contract with San Jose on June 17, 2019, but his first four seasons with the Sharks were marred by injuries. In his first four seasons, he missed 79 games, including 31 last season.

But now healthy, he’s poised to become the first NHL defenseman to amass 100 points in a season since Brian Leetch had 102 with the New York Rangers in 1991-92.

Sharks first-year coach David Quinn understands the beatings Karlsson’s body has taken over the years, but said he appears to be in excellent health these days.

“I think Erik is at a different stage in his career,” Quinn said. “He is 32 years old and these three years have been frustrating for him for various reasons.

“I had a good feeling coming into the camp, he was in a different state of mind, especially because of his health. He was excited about the year, he was taking on new responsibilities, mainly for the way the roster has taken shape here the last three or four months, he’s embraced it and you see a Norris Trophy winning defenseman again.

Captain of the Sharks Logan Couture was impressed with what he saw.

“Everyone gets hurt in this game,” Couture said. “It’s a physical sport. It’s an exhausting season.

“He’s worked extremely hard to prepare for this season. I don’t know if it’s revenge against anything. I think he’s just a proud player who wants to show himself and his teammates that he can be a dominant player in the League, and that’s what he’s doing.”

As the Sharks (8-14-4) rebuild, first-year general manager Mike Grier said he would listen to trade offers for Karlsson, who still has four seasons after this one on a contract. which expires at age 37. and has a no-trade clause.

Karlsson said he would leave the commercial details to the front office. In the immediate future, he says he is happy in San Jose. Either way, wherever he ends up playing, his legacy will be determined by his ability to stay healthy.

Can he do this for the rest of his contract?

“If I had had those questions answered, it’s something I would have done every year and every summer,” Karlsson said. “It’s a reaction sport. I find the more you try to control it, the less you do.

“I had a good summer this year. I went back to Sweden, I was able to see my family who I hadn’t seen for a while. I brought my children there.

“My life in general is just really good right now. I have a good routine. Maybe it’s been good for me.”

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