San Jose Sharks Beyond the Numbers: What to Expect From Erik Karlsson


The San Jose Sharks have recently acquired Swedish defensive dynamo Erik Karlsson. It is still very early in this transition process, but it is difficult not to speculate what could be possible with EK65 sporting a teal sweater.

San Jose Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson has done it again. He has successfully pulled off another blockbuster trade that will have a monstrous effect on the upcoming season. Erik Karlsson was acquired by the Sharks for 4 players, 2 draft picks and 2 conditional picks. EK65 is a once in a generation defensemen who instantly makes this Sharks team a favorite for the cup coming out the West.

The trade couldn’t have come at a better time for a player like EK65. He is coming off a turbulent season with the Ottawa Senators. He was recovering from a very significant ankle injury, while also dealing with a volatile locker room environment.

Still Karlsson was able to compile 62 points in 71 regular season games on a muddling Senators team. It was a down year last season, but with another offseason of recovery and a new locker room full of talented teammates it is not hard to argue that Karlsson could return to his old form.

While Karlsson’s production dipped a bit, his 62 points still would have placed 3rd on this team who struggled to produce offense at times. 18 of those points came during the Power Play, which is where EK65 is the most lethal.  He uses his wicked wrist shot and excellent vision to squeeze pucks into shooting lanes. He seems to always find a teammate’s stick blade or an opponent’s skate to ricochet the puck towards the crease.

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A simple stat that illustrates his prowess on special teams is his average assists totals on the PP. Over the course of his career Karlsson has averaged nearly 18.5 assists per season and 22.5 over the previous 5.

That is some ridiculous production stemming from the blue line and a formula for success the San Jose Sharks are used to.

It is really exciting to think about is having both Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns on the first Power Play unit at the same time. Having them playing left and right point is a nightmare for opposing coaching staffs.

One can already imagine one or the other roving the blue line searching for shooting lanes, while the other jumps into the play surrounding the goal crease.

This is a nightmare scenario for any goalie and the Sharks now have this option night in and night out.

Burns and Karlsson play a very similar game that relies on their size, skate speed, and deadly shot to produce points. EK65 is little more rounded defensively and Burns is a little more of a risk taker on offense, but both these guys can wreak havoc in an opponent’s zone. They are not afraid to leave their spot on the point and rush into the play in order to create matchup hell for opposing defenses.

The two of them Burns with 25 and Karlsson with 24 placed 1st and 2nd respectively in rush attempts by a defensemen during the span of 2015 – 2017, stats per naturalstattrick.  These are crazy high numbers, with no other blue liner cracking 20 during that time.

This type of zone pressure is difficult to defend especially with players like these two who have the hockey sense  and intangibles to create their own shot. It attracts a lot of the opponents attention allowing other Sharks to trail the puck and receive a pass or tuck home a rebound.

Karlsson’s injury last season definitely took a toll on his overall game. His points along with his underlying stats both took a significant dip during the 2017 – 2018 season. So for a more realistic sense of what to expect from the 28 year old defensemen it’s best to use stats from years before the debacle of last year.

One amazing thing about Erik Karlsson’s ability to produce offense is how he was utilized by the Senators. By comparison Burns starts a lot of his shifts within the offensive zone;  while EK65 is used in a much more balanced manner. By using my favorite visualization tool developed by Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) one can see the differences in usage between the two players.

Burns gets deployed in the opponents zone at almost double the rate of defensive zone starts. Pete DeBoer enjoys utilizing matchups and trusts Burns ability to produce in the opponent’s end; however he is often shielded from possibly difficult defensive assignment.

Now looking at Karlsson now one can observe that Guy Boucher has a much more balanced approach to utilizing his Norris Trophy winning defensemen. He was deployed at about equal the rate in both the offensive and defensive zone.

This was just last year’s sample, but throughout EK65’s tenure in Ottawa it has stayed relatively the same, which makes his point totals over some of the previous season that much more impressive. I have a feeling that Pete DeBoer is going to enjoy using Karlsson in matchup situations very similar to how Burns is utilized for maximum ice time effectiveness.

The defensive pairings are yet to be decided,but with training camp picking up we will more than likely see how these formations will pan out. But regardless of how they are configured, you can almost guarantee that we will be seeing Pete DeBoer use these two to create nightmarish match up scenarios against the opposing teams defense.

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Next: The San Jose Sharks Have Traded For Erik Karlsson Oh My God!

The San Jose Sharks and General Manager Doug Wilson again were able to pull another stunning, roster shaking, block buster trade. Adding Karlsson to an already offensively potent blue line is a dream becoming reality. There are still so many questions about this addition that need to be answer, but for the time being EK65 is a Shark and that makes them Stanley Cup favorites coming into training camp.

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