San Jose Sharks D-Man Erik Karlsson a “Dark Horse” Norris Candidate?

SAN JOSE, CA - DECEMBER 20: Erik Karlsson #65 of the San Jose Sharks in action against the Winnipeg Jets at SAP Center on December 20, 2018 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - DECEMBER 20: Erik Karlsson #65 of the San Jose Sharks in action against the Winnipeg Jets at SAP Center on December 20, 2018 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Thinking of a generational talent like Erik Karlsson as possibly a Dark Horse for the Norris Trophy is a strange idea, however so far this season EK65’s been considered an afterthought compared to some of the leagues other marque defenders. But if you look closer at Karlsson’s underlying numbers the Swedish defensive dynamo is preforming at a career high rate for the San Jose Sharks.

Erik Karlsson enters his 40th game of the season with 32 points so far for the San Jose Sharks. That ranks eighth in the league among blue liners, which might seem underwhelming for an all world defensemen but after a “slow” start he has been playing his best hockey of late.

Karlsson is carrying a 10 game point streak into his most recent game with 16 points over that span. EK65’s game breaking speed, elite hockey sense, and blazing shot are something we can all get used to seeing in teal.

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The San Jose Sharks defensive standout leads the league in Corsi For and is 2nd in Fenwick For percentage at 5v5 among all defenders. Not only this but EK65 out paces the rest of the NHL in on-ice Shots For generated. This all translates into Team Teal leading the league in points from their defensemen. After a few months this team is seeing benefits of having a player like EK65 facilitate the offense.

The San Jose Sharks made a pretty large gamble when they traded for Karlsson at the beginning stages of the 2018 – 2019 campaign. They made it clear to the rest of the league that they are Stanley Cup or bust this season.  After a sluggish start as far as accumulating points goes, EK65 is now starting to round into form and is possibly playing some of the best hockey of his career.

Karlsson has been scoring at a rapid pace of late, but of his 32 points this season only 3 of them are goals. However this doesn’t mean that EK65’s shot hasn’t been extremely effective when it comes to generating offense for Team Teal.

Erik Karlsson leads all blue liners in individual Shots For with 105 heading into his 40th game played. Using Hockeyviz’s helpful visualization tool that charts players 5v5 Shots For, we can see all of EK65’s unblocked shots.

EK65’s has been firing the puck from just about everywhere in the offensive zone, but most of the shots are being launched the right point. Over time one would think that this type of shot would become predictable but somehow it continues to sneak through bodies and create dangerous scoring opportunities.

Karlsson has an uncanny ability of finding shooting lanes that flow directly to the opposing netminder. According to EK65 leads all blue liners in expected goals off rebounds at 5v5 with 1.2. This essentially means that goalies really struggle to wrangle in the puck when it comes flying off of his stick blade. The Sharks are loaded with players who are able to convert loose pucks into dangerous scoring opportunities. The puck flies off his stick so smoothly and accurately it seems as though he rarely misses his spots.

EK65 is finally starting to benefit from the amount of talent that the he’s surrounded with on San Jose Sharks, and Team Teal is starting to get adjusted to sharing the ice with a player like Karlsson. One of the biggest benefactors from this blockbuster trade would have to be Brendan Dillon. Who’s seen his role on this team drastically expand from 3rd pairing defender, to playing premium minutes with crucial situations. All while sporting +16 plus/minus and a positive CF/FF percentage.

Karlsson’s impact on the San Jose Sharks isn’t just seen in the offensive zone. Looking back at his previous 39 games we can point out countless examples of EK65 using his high hockey IQ and breakneck speed to disrupt breakaways and agitate opposing attackers in the defensive zone. Regardless of who is put on his left side Team Teal sports one of the leagues most potent offenses.

A player like Erik Karlsson comes along once in a generation and the San Jose Sharks are extremely lucky to have him grace the teal sweater. This team is obviously much more dangerous with EK65 eating a significant number of minutes on their blue line.

Teams definitely mark the games where they face off against the Sharks on their calendar and the competition is only going to get tougher while this team creep towards the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Expect them to lean heavily on the play of Karlsson, which doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

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Their are some new names being thrown around for early Norris Trophy considerations but personally I have feeling at the end of the season we will be discussing Erik Karlsson as the leagues best defender and odds on favorite.

All statistics in this article were provided by Corsica.Hockey unless stated otherwise.