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What Sets Karlsson Apart From Other Greats?

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

What sets Erik Karlsson apart from other good-to-great players?

Karlsson was performing at such a level in the San Jose Sharks’ 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, that you could see it even apart from his one goal and three primary assists.

San Jose up 2-1 midway through the second period, Mason Shaw kneed Evgeny Svechnikov. Shaw was ejected from the game and San Jose received a five-minute major power play. Emotions, however, were clearly running high because Svechnikov had to leave the game, and it was Shaw more than a month ago who had got away with a head shot on Radim Simek.

Shaw Ejected After Another Questionable Hit on Sharks Player

33 seconds into the major, Timo Meier scored, firing up the Sharks maybe a little too much, judging by the top power play unit’s next shift.

There’s Alexander Barabanov (94) trying to bust the puck through double penalty kill coverage (00:01) and Meier (28) forcing a pass (00:45) through Jordan Greenway (18) guarding the middle.

There’s Meier going behind Karlsson (65) on the flank-to-flank pass (1:19).

And then, there’s the contrast of Karlsson returning the pass tape to tape.

Now this isn’t a criticism of the other Sharks.

San Jose had a well-earned 3-1 lead to this point of the game with contributions up and down the line-up, Nick Bonino’s 1:27 first period penalty-killing shift, Jaycob Megna’s Karlsson-like pass on Karlsson’s goal, and James Reimer’s clutch goaltending, to cite a few highs. And of course, everybody knows how good Meier is, and a lot of people are learning about Barabanov too.

But at this heated juncture of the game, it was striking to see Karlsson lead on the ice with his patience, precision, and purposefulness. Even the one pass that he missed (1:11), I attribute more to the 6-foot-6 Greenway’s extraordinary reach.

This advanced processing power, of course, has been a hallmark of Karlsson’s career. And yes, it’s leadership – when everybody else is running hot, Karlsson’s calm in the storm, in this case, didn’t put another goal on the board for the Sharks, but certainly kept the momentum in their favor as Meier and Nick Bonino (13) had good looks.

“He’s unique, obviously, with his hockey IQ,” Sharks newcomer Svechnikov said. “The feeling of hockey with the puck and knowing where people are, when to shoot, when to pass, you just have to feel it. Not many people have the feeling of it.”

Even at his worst over the years, Karlsson’s patience with the puck still stood out.

And now? The patience is paying off. That was Karlsson’s third four-point game this season – the San Jose Sharks are a telling 1-1-1 in those contests though – and he’s up to a NHL defensemen-leading 46 points.

That’s also a season-high for Karlsson as a Shark, if you can believe it, and in just 35 games. His previous high was 45 points in 53 appearances in 2018-19.

Karlsson is also on pace for 108 points – the last defenseman to top the century mark was Brian Leetch with 102 points in 1991-92.

“He’s special. He’s unbelievable. You watch that guy out there, he’s playing a video game. It’s really amazing to watch him when he’s on his game,” San Jose Sharks head coach David Quinn said. “It’s not a mystery why he’s won two Norris Trophies, and I can see more Norris Trophies coming his way.”

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