Someday, he’ll be the toast of hockey fans at Scotiabank Place.
But Erik Karlsson, a slick Swede with a sharp sense of humour, knows it’ll be far different when he shows up in the familiar blue and gold Tre Kronor colours for the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ottawa.
“And play for Sweden?” Karlsson said with a knowing grin when asked about the reception he might receive should he get the chance to hit the ice in the Ottawa Senators’ home rink during the World Juniors. “Hopefully, they’ll cheer for me anyway.”
Perhaps, given the fact that the Senators made the 18-year-old blueliner their first-round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, also held at Scotiabank Place. But instead, figure on the hometown fans to at least watch intently as the 5-foot-10, 157-pound Karlsson puts a breathtaking set of hockey skills on display.
The Senators thought so highly of Karlsson’s burgeoning talent that they traded up three spots in the draft to ensure they got their hands on him.
“He’s a highly, highly skilled guy,” said Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray. “He’s not the
biggest guy in the world but I’ve had different scouts from successful organizations call him (Sergei) Zubov
and call him different things like that.
“This guy is a special kid.”
Pierre McGuire, who’ll be part of of TSN’s team for the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship, came up with perhaps a more apt comparison, given Karlsson’s body frame. McGuire dubbed Karlsson “the Swedish Brian Rafalski,” a reference to the swift blueliner who helped the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in June.
Karlsson already has his own Red Wings connection – he hails from Lansdbro, a tiny Swedish town 300
kilometres from Stockholm that also produced Detroit playoff hero
Hockey has always been a big part of the Karlsson family. Erik’s father, Jonas, played the game. So, too, does his younger brother Pelle.
The bigger the game, Erik said, the more he likes it. Case in point: In his first game last season for the Frolunda Indians in the Swedish Elitserien, Karlsson scored the winning goal in overtime to put his team into the playoffs.
“It was a great day,” said Karlsson, who played most of the season with Frolunda’s junior team. “I was nervous as hell. There were 12,000 people there, it was my first professional game. So at the beginning, I was a little shaky but I think after two or three (shifts), I got into it more and more and it felt pretty good.”
Karlsson calls himself “an offensive defenceman” who thrives on power-play time.
Ranked 63rd at mid-season in NHL Central Scouting’s rankings of European skaters, he rocketed up to fourth in the final set of ratings.
Goran Stubb, the NHL’s director of European scouting, said Karlsson “plays the game with confidence, has a natural hockey sense and is a consistent offensive threat. He compensates for his lack of strength with his mobility, passing, and vision.”
If all goes as planned, Karlsson will have plenty of opportunity to show off that impressive package during the World Juniors. He also hopes to use the tournament to introduce his parents, Jonas and Ulla Karen, to the city he hopes to call his hockey home for many years to come.
“I will probably bring them so they can come over here and meet everybody (with the Senators organization) and see the town a little bit,” said Karlsson.