Karlsson ready to shine on brightest all-star stage
Senators defenceman revelling in opportunity to perform in front of hometown fans
And by the end of this weekend, he just might be.
If there is anyone who seems ready made to seize the spotlight during 2012 NHL All-Star Weekend, it is the 21-year-old Ottawa Senators defenceman. The Hockey News cover boy is charming everyone who's in town for the festivities with his quick wit and soon enough, those who haven't seen him play up close will be introduced to his wealth of breath-taking hockey skills.
Not that his Senators teammates — three of whom will join him on Team Alfredsson for Saturday's Molson Canadian NHL All-Star Skills Competition (7 p.m., CBC) and Sunday's Tim Horton's NHL All-Star Game (4 p.m., CBC) are surprised in the least. They've watching closer than anyone as the flashy young Swede, the league's top-scoring defenceman, rockets toward superstardom.
"I did the (NHL) media tour at the start of the season and I told people Erik Karlsson is an every year all-star in my mind," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "I think he’s going to be that and I think it’s good that people are starting to realize how good he is. He’s a key cog on our team and not many players like him come along ... He's going to be as good as he wants to be."
Senators winger Milan Michalek grins when it's suggested the all-stage stage seems tremendously well suited to a defenceman with top-end skating skills and creative hockey sense.
"That’s exactly his stage," said Michalek. "I’m sure he’s going to have a lot of fun during the game and in the skills, too. It’s going to be lots of fun to watch him ... it's good that people are finding out about him because he's going to be a huge star."
While Karlsson mildly disputes the level of his sense of humour — "I'm not that funny. I know I laugh at my own jokes sometimes" — he readily admits that he is savouring the moment and he's eager to put on a show for the home folks in his second all-star game appearance.
"This is a great event and Ottawa has done a really good job hosting it so far," he said. "I think it’s just going to get better every day it goes here. I’m very fortunate to have the season I’ve had (so far) to be able to play here while it’s here … it’s something that’s probably not going to happen in my career (again), so I’m really, really appreciative of that. I’m having a lot of fun.
"It’s for the fans, too. You want to make them as happy as possible and we’ll do our best in the way we can to make sure they have a good time."
Spezza, for one, doesn't believe Karlsson needs a stage like this to display his talent. But he knows this could well be his teammate's coming out party in terms of league-wide recognition.
"Erik’s skill set is made for hockey in general and this is a hockey game," said Spezza. "Some guys play better in all-star games than you expect and some guys don’t, but I don’t really think it matters. The way he gets up and down the ice … I think he played pretty well last year (in Raleigh, N.C.), so I think he’ll be good this year, too.
"It’s great for Erik, the recognition he’s going to get and continue to get. Having a stage like this gives him the recognition because he is one of the best defencemen in the game and he is one of the best offensive defencemen in the game."