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Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson becoming quite a hit with hockey fans

In this March 24, 2011 file photo, Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson, right, celebrates after scoring in a shootout against the New York Rangers, in New York. Karlsson is obviously a big hit with hockey fans.The Ottawa Senators player is first among defenceman with 585,000 votes in fan balloting for this year's all-star game in the Canadian capital. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Frank Franklin II

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In this March 24, 2011 file photo, Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson, right, celebrates after scoring in a shootout against the New York Rangers, in New York. Karlsson is obviously a big hit with hockey fans.The Ottawa Senators player is first among defenceman with 585,000 votes in fan balloting for this year's all-star game in the Canadian capital. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Frank Franklin II

OTTAWA - Erik Karlsson is obviously a big hit with hockey fans.

The Ottawa Senators player is first among defenceman with 585,000 votes in fan balloting for this year's all-star game in the Canadian capital. Voting is scheduled to end Wednesday.

Then again, Karlsson has been impressive on the ice. He leads NHL defenceman in scoring with 37 points in 40 games and logs an average of more than 25 minutes per contest.

But perhaps the Swede's best ability is to make things happen. He has a knack for being able to find space in the tightest of quarters.

“It's a natural part of his game, but he also works at finding those spaces,”said Senators veteran defenceman Sergei Gonchar.

The 37-year-old Gonchar joined the Senators last season and it's no coincidence he sits beside Karlsson in the dressing room.

“We talk about the game and different situations and we share a lot of thoughts,”said Gonchar.“I try to share some of my experience, but he's doing fine on his own.

"He has all the skills.”

Gonchar said he was impressed with Karlsson long before arriving in Ottawa.

“I recognized right away how good he is,'' Gonchar said. "He has all the tools, all the potential.

"One of the things that has surprised me is how quickly he's developed. Sometimes it takes a little longer but it seems he's ahead of the pattern.”

Karlsson, for one, realizes he's talented but it would be a real stretch to call him conceited. If anything he's just self-confident.

“He has that mentality to want to be the guy and always has been,”said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who acted as Karlsson's billet during the young Swede's rookie season.“He doesn't shy away from it.

"He's not afraid to make mistakes but he knows he can rely on his speed to make up for those sometimes. Some of the backchecks he's had have been his own fault but he has been unbelievable and he recovers himself so the coach can't really say anything after that.”

Earlier this week Senators coach Paul MacLean acknowledged Karlsson's penchant for taking risks. But MacLean said for the most part the club has been pleased with his development.

“We said we'd like to play him 30 minutes but we want to make sure they're all for us,”MacLean said.“We'll only play him 15 if he's going to play 15 for us and 15 for them.

"Right now, he's playing 27 (minutes) for us and we like that.”

Karlsson likes where his game is at but, predictably, is looking to get better.

“I try to take it one step at a time and I feel good out there," he said. "Hopefully I'll be an even better player by the end of the year.”

Karlsson, 21, is in the final year of his entry level contract and with a cap hit of just US$1.3 million is considered a bargain.

But there's no doubt the Senators will have to pay more to keep Karlsson. Earlier this year the Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed Victor Hedman to a five-year contract extension reportedly worth $20 million.

“I was happy for him and he's a big part of their team and he deserves that contract,”Karlsson said of Hedman.“It's good for him and hopefully I can get something similar.”

A new contract would certainly help Karlsson on a personal level, too. He and his girlfriend of three years will be getting married this summer.

“Some guys are ready at 35, some at 25, but I feel I'm ready now,”said Karlsson.“I've done my fair share of things in life and I think I'm in a position where it's the right thing to do.”

NOTES: Defenceman Chris Phillips is out indefinitely due to a mild concussion suffered against the New Jersey Devils on Monday night . . . Centre Jesse Winchester remains sidelined with a concussion and has no timetable for a return despite having come back to the ice for some skating.

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