Geek of the Week: What’s Up with Erik Karlsson

by Scott Maran on December 30, 2018

The San Jose Sharks were looking to go all-in this season when they went out and acquired arguably the best defenseman in hockey over the summer. However, there’s been plenty of talk (especially more so in the beginning of the year) that Erik Karlsson hasn’t been performing well enough for the Sharks. Billed as a generational talent, Karlsson has not been as dominant for the Sharks as he was with Ottawa. So what’s going on the with the Swedish defender?

For starters, it’s important to mention that Karlsson is having an amazing season, even if the point totals don’t show it. He has the 4th highest 5v5 CF% out of all defensemen in the NHL and is tied for the 11th highest WAR value. He is also still providing excellent fantasy value. According to our Fantasy Hockey Geek tool, Karlsson has been providing the 17th most value in the NHL (in standard 12-team Yahoo leagues measuring goals, assists, shots on goal, power-play points, and hits).



FHG Value







Dustin Byfuglien









Erik Karlsson









Gabriel Landeskog









He won’t provide elite hits or power-play points, but Erik Karlsson’s shooting numbers are almost off the charts for a defender. With 127 shots through 37 games, Karlsson’s racked up the third-most in the league by a defenseman and the 17th-most out of all skaters. His value still primarily stems from his point totals as his 26 points in 37 games is nothing to sneeze at for a defender (a 57-point pace).

However, it’s easy to understand why people (including fantasy owners) might be a bit disappointed. Even though Karlsson makes up for it with his shots and adequate power-play points and hits, his point totals have been lacking. For any other defensemen, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But this is Erik Karlsson, a defenseman who hasn’t scored less than 60 points in a full season since 2010.

So what gives? The problem lies in his goal totals, which can be clearly seen just by looking at his traditional stats. Two goals in 37 games is far from the 20 per season he was averaging just two years ago, but most of Karlsson’s scoring troubles can be explained by luck. He’s taking pretty much the same shots as he has in the past and is underperforming compared to his expected goals rate.


As time goes on we should expect his actual goals rate to be closer to his expected goals rate and for Karlsson to get a few more bounces to go his way. His on-ice shooting percentage is lower than his career average while his IPP is significantly lower than what it has been in the past. Not to mention his individual 5v5 shooting percentage is literally at zero right now. We can reasonably expect all of these numbers to go up sooner or later, and when that happens Karlsson should be right back on track to his usual offensive output.

It is slightly concerning that we’re seeing a dip in Karlsson’s shooting percentage for the second year in a row, but even if he shoots slightly below his career average Karlsson will still be scoring some of the most goals by a defenseman. Overall, you shouldn’t be worried about Karlsson as he’s been everything the Sharks could have asked for in his first season with San Jose.

*Notes: Figures the night before I write this Karlsson has a four-point night. Stats up to date to December 28, so Saturday’s games were not included. WAR values from Evolving-Hockey, expected goal values from Corsica, with the rest from Natural Stat Trick.