OTTAWA – Daniel Alfredsson will have a house guest for at least a little while longer after the Senators confirmed Wednesday that Swedish rookie Erik Karlsson will start the new NHL season with Ottawa.
“It’s a dream come true. I’ve been working for this since the day I got drafted,” said the 19-year-old Karlsson, who was taken under the wing of fellow Swede Alfredsson during his first NHL training camp.
The Senators captain has even opened his home to the young defenceman.
“I’ve been working hard to be here this year and I just hope I can continue to develop and play good the first few games and hopefully I get the chance to stay here the whole season,” Karlsson said following the team’s workout Wednesday in preparation for its season-opener in New York against the Rangers on Saturday.
On Tuesday, the Senators demoted Brian Lee, who played 53 NHL games last season, and veteran Christoph Schubert to Binghamton of the AHL, clearing the way for Karlsson and longtime AHLer Matt Carkner to join the team’s defence corps.
Ottawa had already lost blue-liner Jason Smith to retirement and Brendan Bell, who signed with the St. Louis Blues, during the off-season.
“I think we have a better mix and I think that’s an important thing to have,” Senators coach Cory Clouston said of the new-look blue-line in Ottawa. “When you look at guy like Erik Karlsson, he’s a completely different player than Matt Carkner.
“Erik’s going to definitely help us out on the offence, on the power play. But Matt’s basically the exact opposite. He’s going to help on the penalty kill, in physical presence, in the toughness department.”
The swift-skating Karlsson has been billed as an offensive defenceman in the making after being selected with Ottawa’s first-round pick (15th overall) in 2008.
He was under contract to Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League for last season, but the Senators and fans in Canada’s capital got a chance to see what he could do when he was named top defenceman for Sweden at the world junior championship in Ottawa.
Although there were concerns over his size – he’s listed at five foot 11, 175 pounds – he held his own through the pre-season, effectively pushing the 22-year-old Lee, the ninth-overall pick in 2005, out the door.
“I felt pretty good on the ice and off the ice,” said Karlsson, who’ll likely be paired with Filip Kuba to start the year. “When (Senators general manager) Bryan Murray and Cory talked to me, I had a feeling I might start here. But it’s far from over, I still have nine games now to prove I’m worthy of staying here and I’ll do everything I can to stay and play here the whole year.”
Much like the situation in Pittsburgh, where Sidney Crosby has a mentor in landlord and Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, it was by design that Karlsson took up residence with Alfredsson, his wife Bibi and their three children, Hugo, 6, Loui, 3, and Fenix, 1, in suburban Ottawa.
“He’s been here for a lot of years now. Just by staying at his house, I can see how he really is and he’s a great person and I think he’s one of the most respected players in this league right now,” Karlsson said of the 36-year-old Alfredsson.
“He’s done so much for me, especially off the ice. He talks to me a lot and asks me how I feel and he tells me things that I need to do and things I shouldn’t do. He’s been really good to me and it’s been a lot of help for me that he’s here.”
Alfredsson, who’s been kept busy playing video-game golf with Karlsson, said having an injection of new blood in the Senators lineup is a good thing.
“That’s probably one of the best things about this job,” Alfredsson said. “You’re surrounded by young people and their enthusiasm, seeing how naive they are at times, as well. It’s a lot of fun and you draw a lot from their energy.”
Carkner, meanwhile, simply persevered after years spent toiling in the minors.
The native of Winchester, Ont., just outside of Ottawa, has two games of NHL experience since being drafted by Montreal in 1999.
“It’s a great feeling just being here and being able to prove myself out of training camp,” he said. “Eight years of (pro) hockey and I’ve played two games I’m pretty excited and stoked to be here, for sure.”
At six foot four, 231 pounds, he brings some much-needed toughness to a Senators lineup that, outside of middleweight forward Chris Neil, lacks an intimidating physical presence.
“I’m just a hard worker,” Carkner said. “You’re not going to see too many fancy passes out of me.”