Erik Karlsson has gotten off to an incredible start this season.
The San Jose Sharks defenseman has 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists), tied for third in the NHL behind Edmonton Oilers forwards Connor McDavid (35 points; 16 goals, 19 assists) and Leon Draisaitl (31 points; 11 goals, 20 assists). He leads League defensemen in points; Adam Fox of the New York Rangers is second with 21 points (six goals, 15 assists).
It’s a tremendous rebound for Karlsson, who had 35 points (10 goals, 25 assists) in 50 games last season. Injuries, including a muscle tear in his left forearm that required surgery, kept him out for more than 30 games.
So, can the 32-year-old be the first NHL defenseman to have 100 points since Brian Leetch finished with 102 (22 goals, 80 assists) with the Rangers in 1991-92? That’s the question before NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen and staff writer Tracey Myers in this installment of State Your Case.
Myers: Man, there’s no doubt Erik Karlsson has been impressive to start this season. But 100 points? As cool as that would be to see, I’m doubtful he can pull it off. First, we’re going to get into the “he’s-on-pace-for” discussion, right? I believe he’s currently on pace for 116 points but how often do players keep up a scoring pace? Outside of McDavid, of course. There are streaks and slumps and for everything Karlsson has done thus far, he’s going to hit a lull at some point. And if he’s a possible acquisition before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 3 (Sharks general manager Mike Grier said they’d listen if teams ask about Karlsson), how does that affect him? I know it wouldn’t be his first rodeo, but it weighs on the mind. He’ll have a great point total at the end, it just won’t be 100.
Rosen: Tracey is right. I’m in for the on pace for discussion. So, let’s have it. He is, in fact, on pace for 113 points. Let’s not short him. He’s earned it, averaging 1.38 points per game in 21 games. The best part of his production is that 79 percent of it has come at even strength (23 points). Why do I love that? Simple. He’s dominating play at 5-on-5. We all know he is one of the best power-play point producers in the NHL. He leads all active NHL defensemen in power-play points since 2009-10 (252). That leads me to believe his power-play production, to date six points, will climb. Even if his 5-on-5 production tails slightly, his power-play production could make up for it and keep him on pace for more than 100 points this season. The key is health. But Karlsson entered this season saying he felt as good as he has in a long time. So, let’s say it right here: A healthy Erik Karlsson will be the first NHL defenseman to 100 points since Brian Leetch in 1991-92.
Myers: Dan, I’m glad you brought up health because that was going to be my other point, or I should say concern. It’s great that Karlsson is feeling better than he has in a while, because it’s been a while since he last played 82 games in a season (he did it in 2015-16 with the Ottawa Senators). And he’s going to need just about every game to hit 100 points or more. Looking at Leetch’s stats, the season he scored 102 points he played 80 games, and he needed No. 80 big time: he had four points (one goal, three assists) to pass the 100-point threshold. We all want to see Karlsson healthy throughout this season because when he’s at his best, he is incredible, and the guy deserves some great health (finally). But even if he does, this is going to be a daunting task.
Rosen: Daunting, yes. Impossible, no. Since he entered the NHL I always thought if there was going to be a defenseman to do what Leetch did in 1991-92 it was going to be Karlsson. I think the key for him this season is he’s scoring more goals. He has 11 in 21 games. When he had 82 points in 82 games in 2015-16, only 16 came by way of a goal. He had 66 assists. He shot 6.5 percent. This season, he’s shooting 16.2 percent. Yes, it’s way above his career average of 6.8 percent so the analytics folks are going to come at me with the regression argument. I see it. I understand it’s possible. But if Karlsson continues to shoot the puck at the clip he is, averaging 3.23 shots per game he will either continue to score or he will create opportunities for his Sharks teammates off the shot. The key for Karlsson is to continue to shoot, because the uptick in goals is what will get him to 100 points. He’s on pace for 43 goals. That he won’t get. But if he scores in the 30s, it will be enough to get him to 100 points because of the amount of assists he will start to pile up, particularly on the power play, when the Sharks get scoring chances off of his shot. The odds are likely against him, but let’s consider one more thing: Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi had 96 points last season; he didn’t get his 28th point until his 29th game. Karlsson got there in 20 games. He’s way ahead of the pace and actually has room for a scoring slump.