March 18, 2012
Erik Karlsson: Sergei Zubov Minus The Cigarettes
It has been a fantastic season for Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson.
He leads all defensemen with over 70 points, about 25 more than second place Brian Campbell of Florida. In fact, Karlsson ranks in the top 10 in league scoring, forwards included! There is an outside shot he could lead all NHL players in assists this season. (Claude Giroux and perrenial assist leader Henrik Sedin may have something to say about that.)
Few expected the Ottawa Senators to make much noise this season and no one expected Erik Karlsson to be in the Norris Trophy conversation. But with the dominant season he's having, he might be emerging as the odds on favorite to win it. Zdeno Chara has struggled in the second half of the season. Nicklas Lidstrom has been sidelined with an ankle injury. Shea Weber will get votes and Alex Pietrangelo has emerged in St. Louis, but Karlsson has been just too dominant this season. He leads all dmen in goals, assists, and points. He plays more often than his Norris Trophy competition, too.
I heard a couple of great quotes about Karlsson this week.
The first came from his coach, Paul MacLean. MacLean, a long time assistant coach in Detroit, believes Karlsson can be as good as Nicklas Lidstrom. MacLean suggests the challenge for Karlsson is to find long term consistency, but he believes Karlsson has all the talent.
The second came from an Ottawa scout and was re-told by Hockey Night In Canada's Elliotte Friedman. "He's Sergei Zubov minus the cigarettes."
What a great quote and an event better comparison.
Sergei Zubov may be the greatest "second tier" player in NHL history.
By "second tier" I mean he was an amazing hockey player that somehow always escaped the limelight and accolades that were always present for peers like Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Nicklas Lidstrom and one time teammate Brian Leetch.
Sergei Zubov played in 16 NHL seasons, putting up impressive totals: 1068 games played, 152 goals, 619 assists and 771 points. In doing so Zubov became the third European defenseman (Nicklas Lidstrom and Borje Salming) and the first Russian defenseman to record 700 career NHL points
He is also the only defenseman in NHL history to lead a first overall place team in scoring. Bobby Orr didn't even do that. Zubov did that in 1994, the same year he played an instrumental role in helping the Rangers capture the Stanley Cup, giving Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brian Leetch a serious challenge for best defenseman on the team.
Right from Zubov's debut in the NHL he was recognized as one of hockey's smoothest and most intelligent defensemen. He was a brilliant skater, both in terms of speed and lateral ability, and puck handler. The right handed defenseman was a great power play quarterback, seeing the ice incredibly well. He had a good and accurate shot, when he was not reluctant to use it. Where he would get himself into trouble was when he would overhandle the puck at the point. Instead of just putting the puck on net or dumping the puck into the corner when he was pressured, Zubov often tried to make a play out of nothing, making for dangerous turnovers.
Zubov matured into a fantastic two way player, outgrowing rookie over-indulgance for offense at the expense of defense. Because of his skating he was tough to beat one-on-one. He had good size and did not shy away in physical games, although he would never himself play a mean game. He relied more on his reach and agility.
Read the full Sergei Zubov biography here.
Whether Erik Karlsson can fulfill such lofty expectations in the coming seasons will be interesting to watch. One thing is for sure, he's blown every expectation so far right out of the water.