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Can Karlsson Finish What He’s Started?

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Credit: Hockey Shots/Dean Tait

“I still think I’m one of the best players in the world.”

Erik Karlsson told us that last October and forgive us if we didn’t believe him.

Karlsson Enters Season with Confidence

At that point, the San Jose Sharks star was coming off back-to-back disappointing campaigns.

In 2020-21, he recorded just 22 points in 52 contests. That 0.42 Points Per Game was his lowest since his rookie season 0.43.

In 2019-20, he posted a more robust 40 points in 56 games, before thumb surgery ended his year and COVID would pause the NHL’s season. But talking to scouts during that campaign, they all agreed that there was something off about his game, a little less pep in his step, perhaps because of off-season groin surgery.

But Karlsson, true to his claim, kicked off 2021-22 with authority, totaling 26 points in his first 33 games, and playing with a consistent offensive and defensive zest that we hadn’t seen since midway through his first season in San Jose. The Sharks responded in kind, and halfway through the year, they held a tenuous grip on the last wild card spot in the West.

Karlsson, Meier Lead Sharks on Both Sides of Puck

But then, in mid-January, Karlsson underwent forearm surgery, and though he returned in March, his game and the Sharks’ weren’t quite there, and San Jose finished 20 points out of the playoffs.

As good as Karlsson was for three months last year, it didn’t keep his name out of the trade rumor mill this past summer:

REPORT: Sharks Open to Trading Burns or Karlsson

But here’s Karlsson again, after two goals in a 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, reminding us once again that he still can be one of the best players in the world.

The Sharks are just 3-8-0, but through 11 games, Karlsson has six goals and five assists. That 6 in 11 is the best goal-scoring start to a season in his career; he had 5 in 11 to kick off 2012-13.

He currently leads all NHL defensemen in goals and points.

This afternoon’s performance follows a command performance and OT winner against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.

“The last two games, he’s looked like a Norris Trophy winner,” San Jose Sharks head coach David Quinn offered.

So – and it feels like I ask this question every year since he’s arrived in San Jose – is Erik Karlsson back?

And wait a minute…didn’t I compare Karlsson to Albert Pujols with the Angels and Michael Jordan with the Wizards just three days ago?

Erik Karlsson & the Philosopher’s Stone

First, let me say that Pujols was an All-Star with Los Angeles of Anaheim and Jordan was still dropping 20 points a night in Washington. I didn’t call Karlsson Willie Mays with the Mets.

But, and I can wear what I said, it wasn’t a compliment either. Pujols was an All-Star with the Angels, but he was the greatest hitter of our generation with the St. Louis Cardinals. And I don’t need to tell you what Jordan did when he wasn’t with the Wizards.

So is Karlsson back?

I can answer the question the same way that I’ve answered it every year after he’s put up a game to remember.

Here’s another article from last year:

How Does Karlsson Transform Sharks — Could That Sway Hertl?

Here’s one from 2020-21:

Quick Thoughts: Swedish Spring in St. Louis, Sharks Win 2-1 Shootout

And here’s a pre-San Jose Hockey Now paean from 2019-20.

It’s always the same question when Karlsson has a great game: Can he keep it up?

Nobody is expecting Karlsson to keep shooting 22.2 percent (career: 6.7).

But I’ve had no question for years, that on any given night, Karlsson can still be one of the best players in the world. But the true best players in the world, they bring it most every night, and for an entire season, which Karlsson hasn’t done since he was with the Ottawa Senators.

In his way, I think Karlsson knows it too.

“It’s about how it ends. It’s a long year,” he acknowledged, when asked about his personal-best start to the season.

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