BOSTON — Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson is an extraordinary talent, so much so that he’s drawn comparisons to the best D-man in NHL history: Bruins legend Bobby Orr.
Karlsson, like Orr, plays a very fast-paced, offensive-heavy style of hockey. Instead of being a “stay-at-home” defenseman more worried about defending in his own zone and moving the puck out, Karlsson employs a one-man transition game and creates scoring chances for himself and teammates with elite skating and playmaking abilities.
“Erik is a good example of a player that plays a style that many coaches didn’t like, but they let him play it,” Orr told NESN on Tuesday at an unveiling of the “Bobby Orr Suite” at the Ames Boston Hotel.
“I was the same when I came. I played a style that coaches didn’t like. They wanted you to stay back and just move the puck. Paul Coffey, there’s so many players, and if you look at the Stanley Cup-winning teams, not many of them win without that guy back there, creating from behind. With the exception of (this year’s) Pittsburgh Penguins. They lose their best defenseman in (Kris) Letang, one of the best defensemen in the league, and they still win.”
Orr’s right, though. If you look back at all 12 Stanley Cup champions since the 2004-05 lockout, every one of them except this year’s Penguins and the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes had a top-tier defenseman. Elite No. 1 D-men such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer, Zdeno Chara, Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith all have played major roles on championship teams over that span.
Orr still is the only defenseman ever to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer. Does Karlsson have a shot to join him?
“He puts a lot of points up,” Orr said. “As long as he stays healthy, and he continues to be allowed to play the way he plays. He moves that puck so well, he jumps up so well, he’s up in the play all the time. I like it. I love to watch him. I like to watch those guys. Raymond (Bourque) jumped up a lot there, too. I think he could (win the Art Ross).”
Karlsson has tallied 70-plus points in three of the last four seasons, including 82 points in 82 games during the 2015-16 campaign. If any defenseman is going to win the Art Ross in the near future, it’s most likely the Senators captain.
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