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Kelly O'Donnell The Hockey Writers

Published on Thursday, June 25, 2015





Karlsson in Elite Company, Best Since Leetch

This year’s Norris Trophy race was compelling and hotly contested. Fan bases from Los Angeles, Nashville, Montreal and Ottawa passionately promoted their hometown favorite. Injuries sidelined some other good candidates.

(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

(Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

The debate brought out some who wish the award would go to a defensive defenseman, with a new award being created for the league’s best offensive defenseman. However, Bobby Orr long ago broke the mold on what is considered an elite defenseman. For the past 45 years, the award has almost exclusively gone to high scoring defenders, with just a few occasional exceptions. In fact, only three times over that time has the Norris Trophy winner had a point total below 50 points, P.K. Subban, due to the lockout and Rod Langway did it twice. If Drew Doughty had won this year, he would have done so with the lowest point total for a winner in over 30 years.

Now more than ever, the game is dominated by mobile defensemen that control and drive play in a puck possession era. A quick peek at the Stanley Cup final will tell you that Victor Hedman and Duncan Keith dominated these playoffs while high scoring forwards were mostly nullified. The best defense is puck possession and Erik Karlsson exemplifies that more than any other in today’s game.

In Elite Company

With a second Norris Trophy win, Karlsson is starting to write history. He is now one of only 13 players to win the Norris Trophy twice. He joins Orr, Paul Coffey and Denis Potvin as the only defensemen in NHL history to win the award twice by the age of 25. That is very good company.

Karlsson now has back-to-back 20-goal seasons. Only five defensemen in NHL history have had two 20-goal seasons by the age of 25 (Coffey, Orr, Potvin, Ray Bourque and Phil Housley). The most recent player to accomplish the feat was Brian Leetch in 1992. Karlsson also had a 19-goal season in 2012, when he won his first Norris Trophy.

Best Offensive Production Since Leetch

Karlsson now has three seasons of more than 65 points. He likely would have had four if not for the lockout season in which he also suffered a sliced achilles. Only six defensemen have accomplished this before the age of 25 (the same five as above plus Al MacInnis). Once again, this has not been done since Leetch in 1992.

Karlsson has 84 career goals in 397 games. That is the 11th best total by a defenseman before the age of 25. The most recent player to exceed that total is Al Iafrate in 1991 with 87 goals. Coffee leads this statistic with 192 goals in 473 games during the high-flying 80’s.

Rk Name Pos Season GP G A P
1 CA Bobby Orr D 1972-73 467 181 432 613
2 CA Paul Coffey D 1985-86 473 192 410 602
3 US Phil Housley D 1988-89 528 157 320 477
4 CA Ray Bourque D 1984-85 428 134 308 442
5 CA Denis Potvin D 1977-78 394 124 278 402
6 CA Scott Stevens D 1988-89 545 87 302 389
7 CA Dave Babych D 1985-86 452 83 291 374
8 CA Larry Murphy D 1985-86 471 99 274 373
9 US Brian Leetch D 1992-93 353 80 287 367
10 CA Al MacInnis D 1987-88 370 82 260 342
11 CA Paul Reinhart D 1984-85 395 86 254 340
12 SE Erik Karlsson D 2014-15 397 84 219 303
13 CA Doug Bodger D 1990-91 489 59 231 290
14 US Gary Suter D 1988-89 286 61 208 269
15 CA Jeff Brown D 1990-91 352 75 192 267



Karlsson has 303 career points, ranking him 12th all-time in point scoring before age 25. Leetch is once again the most recent to exceed this with 367 points by 1993.

Whether it is Norris Trophy awards, goals, assists, shot attempts or points, Karlsson is joining the who’s who of NHL defensemen to this point in his young career. Made all the more impressive by the fact he is doing it in an era when goal scoring totals are very low compared to the 80’s and early 90’s.

He is fully recovered from that horrific Achilles injury and is just now entering the prime of his career. The next few years will be fun to watch.


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