With Robin Lehner out for the year and Jonas Rondbjerg down in Henderson, William Karlsson is now the only player on the Vegas Golden Knight’s roster not from either the United States or Canada.
Yet the Swede and original Golden Knight has looked like one of the most at-home players on the team this season. He’s off to a great start, with seven points in nine games, averaging 2.2 expected goals a game and winning 56.9% of faceoffs.
Karlsson famously led the Golden Knights in scoring during their inaugural season. He scored 43 goals, 35 assists, and 78 points in a full season 82-game season. All of these numbers remain his career highs.
Since year one, his point totals have dropped each and every year with the Golden Knights. New centers such as Jack Eichel, Chandler Stephenson, and Nicolas Roy joined the team, and Karlsson has been shuffled up and down the lineup as a result.
Last season he scored just 35 points in 67 games as the Golden Knights missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Karlsson says he is now playing with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder.
“Last year, I wasn’t happy with my performance. So I wanted to go out and prove to myself that I can be a good hockey player again,” said Karlsson, who went as far as to cut his hair this season to change things up.
The work ethic for Karlsson has always been there. He’s one of the first players on the ice for practices and what head coach Bruce Cassidy calls a “student of the game.” But confidence is something that every player needs to have on their side to have success. Last season Karlsson simply did not have it.
“I think his game is good. He’s scored some goals now. His touches are good, so he’s getting some confidence. Confidence is a thing that can come and go for players. They all have to learn how to play through it no matter what. It’s a long season,” said Cassidy after Friday night’s win over the Ducks.
So far, Karlsson has looked excellent under Cassidy’s systems at both ends of the ice. His passes out of the zone are crisp, he is in on pucks hard in the offensive zone, and he’s been a special team’s weapon. If he keeps it up, he could be a dark horse candidate to win the Selke Trophy as a two-way forward.
“We’ve relied on Karly all year to take draws, kill penalties, or be the bumper on the power play. So we haven’t changed our opinion of them. And maybe that’s helped his confidence as well… He’s a big part of our team,” added Cassidy.
Karlsson’s wingers on the popular Misfit Line are Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault. This trio has been together since the inception of the VGK and were reunited seven games into the season.
Marchessault and Smith have switched sides, as Smith usually plays right wing and Marchessault left. But Marchessault says it doesn’t matter as long as Karlsson continues to be their center.
“It doesn’t really matter who is playing right or left; we just know that we want Karly (William Karlsson) down low,” said Marchessault, who is tied for the team lead in points with eight in nine games.
On the penalty kill, Karlsson plays alongside his Smith as well. The two teamed up to score the Golden Knight’s first shorthanded goal of the season Friday. Smith is not surprised by Karlsson’s strong start.
“I’m not surprised at all. I kind of always expect that he’s gonna put the puck in the back of the net or create a great play with it. So maybe in the last year/year and a half, he just hasn’t gotten a lot of luck, but he’s been observing for a long time,” said Smith.
At his current pace, Karlsson could score up to 63 points this season. This is still less than his inaugural season total, but points aren’t everything. With Eichel and Stephenson able to produce more offense, having Karlsson as a reliable defensive forward who can also score is a plus.
He’ll likely never top his year one point totals, but this season William Karlsson is certainly having a return to form so far.