Karlsson No. 1 with Senators
Highly skilled blueliner becomes team's first-ever top pick from Sweden
With chants of "Alfie, Alfie" raining down from the rafters at Scotiabank Place, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson called the name of Swedish defenceman Erik Karlsson as the team's No. 1 pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
The first Swede to be chosen No. 1 in a Senators draft played last season for the Frolunda junior team – the same club that calls Alfredsson one of its alumni.
"What can I say?" said the 18-year-old Karlsson. "To be picked by the Senators when the draft is in Ottawa is amazing. And to hear your name get called by Alfredsson... it's a big feeling, a nice feeling and I will remember it for the rest of my life.
"I've known (Alfredsson) my whole life, I've always seen him play. He's the captain of Ottawa and, of course, he's a great player."
Karlsson was one of the fastest rising talents in this draft: NHL Central Scouting had him ranked 63rd among European skaters in its mid-season rankings. He rocketed up to fourth in its final assessment. Some teams reportedly had him in the top five on their draft boards.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray and his scouts thought so highly of Karlsson that Ottawa shipped a 2009 third-round pick to the Nashville Predators to exchange picks, moving up from 18th to the No. 15 spot.
"We had Erik (rated) ninth overall, I think," said Murray of a player who was named the top defenceman at the Under-18 IIHF World Championship earlier this season. "Very definitely, we're happy we could add him. I like big, strong guys but I also like high-end skill people that do things with the puck and create offence on the back end, and it helps our forwards a great deal. I think he brings that for us."
Size is the biggest knock against Karlsson. He's listed at 5-foot-10 and 157 pounds.
"He's smart enough to play (in the NHL) right now, but he's not physically ready," said Vaclav Burda, the Senators' chief European scout, who watched Karlsson extensively. "He must improve the strength in his legs. Physically, he's not ready. Skills, smartness, hockey sense... (they are) NHL quality right now."
Said Karlsson: "Of course, I need to get bigger but I'm just going to let nature take its course and work on my strength. How tall and how much (weight) I'm going to gain isn't up to me. The only thing I can do anything about is my strength."
Murray said there's no plan to rush Karlsson's development.
"That's not the intent," he said when asked if the young Swede could play for the Senators next season. "He's not a big, heavy guy. He's got some work to do in that area.
"Our intent is to get him through development camp and hopefully bring him to training camp, if it works out that way, then let him go play and make a decision on him later on."
Karlsson, who has been compared favourably with Detroit Red Wings blueliner Brian Rafalski, said he'll return to Sweden for one more year, "then we'll see what happens the next season." He had an inkling he might be drafted by the Senators, having talked to their representatives at the NHL scouting combine in Toronto last month and then again Thursday.
"I know Anders Forsberg, their new scout, and I knew he always liked me," said Karlsson. "I had him as a coach with the national (under-18) team back in Sweden. I hoped Ottawa would pick me."
The Senators' move up in the draft also had to make life easier for Karlsson's family watching back home in Sweden in the wee hours.
"They're home watching on TV," said Karlsson. "Unfortunately, they couldn't come (to the draft). The time is actually 4 a.m. (in Sweden), but I know my family is up."
No doubt figuring the wait was definitely worth it.