Melker Karlsson had an inconsistent second NHL season, but his best hockey of the season came in the Stanley Cup Final when his team needed it most.
Who would’ve thought that perhaps the best skater for the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final would be Melker Karlsson?
Karlsson came to the NHL after playing for Skelleftea AIK of Sweden at the rather old age of 24 as a player who excelled defensively, skated north-south and was a hard-worker. He scored 24 points in 53 games in his first season in the league last year, but took a small step back this year.
After returning from an injury which kept him out for the first month of the season, the Swede notched 19 points in 65 regular season games. He went through a very rough stretch from around Thanksgiving until Christmas, going pointless in 14 consecutive games and finishing December with a minus-five rating.
Aside from the number of points, though, Karlsson was a fine player for team teal and contributed in other areas. Manning the wing position on the third-line for the majority of the season, he finished fifth among San Jose forwards in blocked shots, hits and defensive point shares despite averaging the ninth-most ice time among teal forwards.
His final plus/minus on the campaign was plus-five, the fourth best number on the team, and he finished with a slim 16 penalty minutes.
While the rest of the team was scoring at an extremely high rate as the playoffs progressed, performing exceptionally, Karlsson was quiet in the first three series. In those series (18 games) he scored only four total points, and he wasn’t blocking as many shots or recording as many hits.
While his play hadn’t been up to par to that point, he still had an even plus/minus rating when on the ice in the postseason. It wasn’t as if the Sharks were bad when his line was skating, their dominance just took a step back from when their top six forward group was on the ice.
Even though he could have been asked to do more in those three series, the Sharks still had one series to play and no other options to go with at forward. He still had a chance to step up when his team needed it most.
Karlsson did more than step up his game, he became maybe the best player on the team in the six-game series. While the rest of the squad generally lacked in scoring chances and visibly struggled to keep up with the Penguins speed, Karlsson looked comfortable and played with confidence that Sharks fans hadn’t seen from him all season.
The 25 year-old finished the series with four points – two goals and two assists – all coming in Game 4, Game 5 and Game 6. He scored his team’s lone goal in Game 4, and his Game 5 goal turned out to be the game-winner.
Remember when I said you can’t just look at the stat-sheet with Karlsson? That was the case in Game 3 when Joonas Donskoi scored the overtime game-winning goal. Check out this hustle on the forecheck, preventing a simple pass from the Penguin player, keeping the puck in the zone and leading to the goal:
Plays like that during the whole series eventually earned him a spot on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski for parts of Game 5 and Game 6. A player transitioning from mostly a third-line role to a first and second-line winger in the final two contests of the Finals shows how much faith head coach Pete DeBoer had then, and will have down the road, in Karlsson.
He didn’t have the greatest season and Karlsson must be more consistent next year to earn a similar or better role on the team; however, it’s great for him to go out on an extremely positive note this summer. The fact he shined under the brightest lights possible in the NHL has to give him confidence that he can become a 30-40 point scorer next season in year three.
Be sure to check out all of our previous San Jose Sharks 2015-16 player reviews and grades here: