What Lightning would be getting in Erik Karlsson

Two-time Cup-winning defenseman Brian Engblom offers a scounting report.
Erik Karlsson, right, is "totally unique at the high end. He’s got that charisma factor that big-time players have. He’s an elite skater," says two-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Brian Engblom. [Associated Press]
Erik Karlsson, right, is "totally unique at the high end. He’s got that charisma factor that big-time players have. He’s an elite skater," says two-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Brian Engblom. [Associated Press]
Published Feb. 24, 2018

MONTREAL – We don't know yet if the Lightning will be able to land Senators superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson by Monday's trade deadline.

There's a chance, with Tampa Bay having enough interest – and high-level prospects – to make this type of blockbuster move without dealing from its current roster (meaning Mikhail Sergachev and Brayden Point aren't going anywhere).

But we do know why the Lightning would be intrigued and what it would be getting in the two-time Norris Trophy winner as the league's top defenseman.

"He's the best defenseman in the league," said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, a fellow Swede, a friend of Karlsson's and a Norris Trophy finalist last year.

What makes Karlsson, 27, so special? Two-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Brian Engblom offered the Tampa Bay Times his scouting report of Karlsson, who appears to be finding his game after recovering from a significant surgery on his left ankle last summer.

"(Karlsson is) totally unique at the high end," said Engblom, the Lightning's TV color analyst. "He's got that charisma factor that big-time players have; that shouldn't be overlooked. He's an elite skater. I know the injury thing, and I don't think he's all the way back yet. It usually takes a year for those things. You give him the benefit of the doubt.

"Even (playing) at 85 percent, he's probably better than 99 percent of players at 100 percent. His anticipation, his hockey sense, is off the charts. It's as good as anybody, Sidney Crosby, I don't care who. That's why he's in position (on the ice); he knows what's going to happen.

"He used to not care enough about defense, but I think that's gone. Being able to watch him the last couple years more often, I'm thoroughly impressed. I've talked to some of the players, and (Karlsson) is nearly impossible to beat wide. His feet are so good, so quick, so fast, you can't beat him.

"He's got uncanny abilities with his stick defensively, and offensively. He's the most elite offensive defenseman in the game. He just has that little extra knack and can make plays. He's got zero pulse, a sign of a great player under pressure.

"Does he make mistakes? Sure. But when he does, he comes right back at you and he's determined to make a great play to make up for it, another sign of a great player. He's just got that 'it' thing. People are attracted to. He has a presence about him that makes incredible room for everybody else.

"If he's lost 7 or 8 percent of his ability, he's still far above the Average Joe."

Karlsson's surgery was far from routine. The procedure removed part of his left ankle bone and replaced it with an artificial tendon. Senators coach Guy Boucher said he didn't expect Karlsson to be the same player until after Christmas and believes he is now "starting to see the guy that we know."

"We had so many predict it would take a year and a half for him to really get him back," Boucher said. "Then the other half would say, 'No he's Superman. He's  had some crazy injuries before and come back way faster than everyone.' I think it's somewhere in between.

"Since Christmas, you can see he's really picking up his game. It's his defensive game, his pivots and his mobility and his agility. That's what he was so good at. Obviously he's got great vision, great attributes skill-wise. But for him, his mobility is his No. 1 thing, and you can see right now it's much different than it was a month ago and way different than it was four months ago.

"We're starting to see the guy that we know."

Karlsson's numbers may not pop off the page as they usually do – five goals, 37 assists, minus-30 – but former NHL general manager Craig Button pointed out that the defenseman is on a "terrible team."

"This is when you get a guy like Karlsson," Button said.

Button said with the Lightning not likely to be able to fit Karlsson into its long-term plans due to salary cap reasons. Karlsson can be an unrestricted free agent in 2019, so the Lightning would be betting that getting him for two Stanley Cup runs is well worth the risk.

"You're not going to get (Karlsson) for an eight-year contract," Button said. "You're talking about 12 months, two playoff runs. I'm in on Erik Karlsson. That's all I know. I'm in on him."

And it sounds like so is the Lightning.