Defenseman Erik Karlsson is apparently not a happy camper right now. The Ottawa Senators prospect, who has three assists through nine games this season, is heading to Binghamton to play with the American League’s Sens; not exactly the destination he was hoping for when he came over from Sweden this summer.
Dropping rookies back to junior (or in the case of most Europeans, the minors) is a common practice these days and with that famous nine-game window – the point at which a year comes off their entry level contract – closing on most players right now, it’s interesting to see who stays and who goes.
Luca Sbisa has already been sent back to the Western League by Anaheim, while Colorado’s dynamic teen duo of Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly have been given the green light to find houses in Denver. John Tavares, Dmitry Kulikov and Tyler Myers can also feel safe.
But for those who go, such as Karlsson, the demotion is a tough one. After all, the Sens were in desperate need of a true offensive defenseman to quarterback the power play and that’s the young Swede’s game. Three points in nine games isn’t setting the world on fire, but it’s not bad, either.
The Sens need to tread lightly here. I have to imagine Karlsson’s mindset right now is, if they didn’t want me this year, why didn’t I just stay in Sweden? After all, the B-Sens aren’t off to much of a start in the AHL this season and Karlsson would probably feel more comfortable in his native country.
At this point I must acknowledge that learning North American culture, putting in your dues by riding buses up and down the I-90 and playing 80 games plus playoffs is a great way to get prepared for the NHL grind; it’s just tough to appreciate when you’ve had a taste of charter planes and beautiful hotels.
Patient Zero? Ilya Zubov, former leading scorer on the B-Sens and now a much happier member of Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the Kontinental League. Zubov, who played 11 games over two seasons for Ottawa, never seemed to be happy in Binghamton and when he didn’t make the big squad this year (reports said he was out of shape when he showed up), the writing was on the wall.
First-rounder Brian Lee (ninth overall in 2005) is also suiting up for Bingo this year after spending the majority of last season in Ottawa. Think he’s getting a bit squirrelly after leaving the University of North Dakota after his sophomore season in 2007?
Maybe Ottawa’s cool with the slow burn. After all, the Sens are sitting second in the Northeast Division right now, so why mess with a good thing? Some of the franchise’s best prospects are college kids (Louie Caporusso at Michigan and Patrick Wiercioch with Denver) with several more years on the clock before graduation, so there’s no rush. But they may be playing with fire when it comes to some of the other kids.
Alienating Karlsson right now when he’s already been touted as a future building block doesn’t bode well for a Sens team that has had trouble churning out and keeping its own elite talent since the turn of the century when Jason Spezza, Ray Emery and Anton Volchenkov all made their way through the development process and into the NHL (Andrej Meszaros could be included, but the Sens traded him after just three NHL seasons).
The Ottawa brass may not be in the wrong here, but if the end result is another unhappy prospect, it doesn’t really matter who has the moral high ground, does it?
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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