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How Does Karlsson Transform Sharks — Could That Sway Hertl?

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Credit: AP Photo/Ashley Landis

LOS ANGELES — “Good to see the smile on his face and how happy he was.”

That’s how Bob Boughner described Tomas Hertl after the centerman’s first goal since Jan. 29, which gave the San Jose Sharks a 4-3 OT victory over the Los Angeles Kings.

It’s not hard to imagine that Hertl smile a lot more – and in teal – if he’s playing with this version of Erik Karlsson for the next eight years.

“Looked like his old self,” a scout told San Jose Hockey Now, “played liked the Norris Trophy winner.”

It was Karlsson’s first appearance since Jan. 20, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the San Jose Sharks, 3-7-4 entering the night since the rearguard’s left forearm surgery, looked like a different group.

Boughner agreed: “He instantly changed the make-up of our team, the way he played. Just everything from D-zone exits to breakouts to creating entries, controlled entries, to helping create scoring chances on the power play.”

Here are a few examples of the Karlsson effect, from one end of the ice to the other.

Hertl (48) takes advantage of the Los Angeles forecheck loading up on his side of the ice and hits Karlsson (65) on the weak side. This is a common San Jose Sharks breakout at 5-on-5, a D-to-D pass – Hertl standing in for Jaycob Megna (24) here – to weakside option Karlsson, who’s trusted to take it and go.

Just look at Zone Exits Per 60 at 5-on-5 for regular San Jose Sharks’ defensemen at the All-Star break:

Defensemen (5v5)Zone Exits Per 60
Erik Karlsson16.0
Brent Burns4.8
Marc-Edouard Vlasic4.1
Nicolas Meloche4.9
Jaycob Megna2.1
Jacob Middleton4.6
Ryan Merkley10.7
Radim Simek4.3
Santeri Hatakka3.3
Mario Ferraro4.9

These are zone exits with puck possession. Note once again that these are stats at the break, so for Ryan Merkley and Santeri Hatakka, the sample size is especially small.

Karlsson, naturally, does his best to avoid glass-and-out.

There’s a reason why – this is what Karlsson is always looking for and often successful in, that’s putting his teammate in an advantageous position with the puck.

There’s a Dustin Brown (23) forecheck coming, but Karlsson doesn’t care. He’s not going to move the puck at the first moment that Hertl is available for the breakout pass, he’s going to hold the puck until Hertl has built up enough speed to possibly split the defense, which the centerman does. Only staunch Matt Roy (3) work keeps Hertl from the net.

“It’s almost every clip, it’s him breaking out clean and forwards getting it with speed on the tape,” Boughner said about Karlsson’s impact last night.

By the way, this is Dump-Out % for Sharks blueliners at the break:

Defensemen (5v5)Dump-Out Rate %
Erik Karlsson25.2
Brent Burns38.7
Marc-Edouard Vlasic39.9
Nicolas Meloche38.4
Jaycob Megna39.6
Jacob Middleton27.8
Ryan Merkley24.8
Radim Simek45.5
Santeri Hatakka46.2
Mario Ferraro41.3

No Sharks defenseman exits the zone with possession as much as Karlsson – and no defenseman enters the zone with possession as much as Karlsson.

Hertl backchecks hard to turn it over, but what’s eye-catching here is Karlsson’s patience with the puck as he waits for the Sharks to get on side. Trevor Moore (12) is sniffing around, but there’s no panic, and there’s not going to be dump-in, if Karlsson can help it.

Eventually, Karlsson does give it up, putting it in a place that Timo Meier (28) can win it – this would lead to a couple Jonathan Dahlen chances in the inner slot.

Karlsson more than doubles up the competition in Zone Entries Per 60 at 5-on-5:

Defensemen (5v5)Zone Entries Per 60
Erik Karlsson4.5
Brent Burns2.0
Marc-Edouard Vlasic1.2
Nicolas Meloche2.1
Jaycob Megna0.0
Jacob Middleton0.7
Ryan Merkley4.6
Radim Simek1.8
Santeri Hatakka0.0
Mario Ferraro1.5

This wasn’t on the power play, but Karlsson’s ability to create scoring chances is still elite.

“He started the play, comes up ice and joins. He has enough poise in his game to stop and delay a little bit, wait for somebody to get to the net, then put it on a second layer and a stick,” Boughner pointed out about Karlsson hitting Barabanov in the slot. “Those are things that you can’t teach.”

Slot passes aren’t just about shoveling the puck into the middle of the ice – anybody can do that – it’s about being able to create that space and time for yourself in the offensive zone to find your teammates in the dangerous area. On the Sharks’ blueline, you can still count on Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns to generate good looks.

Defensemen (5v5)Slot Pass Completions Per 60
Erik Karlsson3.4
Brent Burns3.0
Marc-Edouard Vlasic1.3
Nicolas Meloche2.3
Jaycob Megna0.8
Jacob Middleton1.2
Ryan Merkley1.5
Radim Simek1.0
Santeri Hatakka0.0
Mario Ferraro1.1

“He’s got that vision. He just sees the ice differently than most of the guys in NHL,” Hertl said. “That’s why he makes such good plays, you know. His passes are always surprising, but from him, it’s expected.”

The impending UFA, of course, must decide if he’s staying in or leaving San Jose by the Mar. 21 Trade Deadline. The Sharks certainly want him back, but will Hertl reciprocate?

This version of Karlsson, who we’ve seen more of this season than in the previous two years, could be a game-changer in that regard. Hertl says he wants to win, and the San Jose Sharks are headed to three years out of the playoffs – do the math there – but you can win with this Erik Karlsson.

It’s about adding around the reliable Hertl and the resurgent Karlsson, which the San Jose Sharks have failed to do over the last three years.

“Erik was flying tonight,” Boughner said. “You could tell he was happy to be back. He was full of energy.”

The Sharks would love to say that a lot more about Karlsson and Hertl in the coming years.

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