OTTAWA - One year ago prospect Erik Karlsson entered his first NHL training camp with big expectations.
Not much has changed in the interim with the exception that the 20-year-old defenceman is now a key part of the Ottawa Senators, who had their first on-ice workouts of training camp Saturday at Scotiabank Place.
Karlsson, the 15th overall selection by the Senators in the 2008 NHL draft, made the team out of training camp but struggled to start the season and was sent down to the Senators' American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton.
He registered 11 assists in 12 games on the farm and did his chores. Exactly one month after his demotion, Karlsson was recalled by the Senators and his NHL career was on.
He scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 19 in a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild and finished the season with five goals and 26 points in 60 games while patrolling the Senators' blue-line.
"He's improved a lot," said Senators coach Cory Clouston. "He was our highest-minute defenceman in the playoffs last year, he was very, very effective and when the games got tougher with more pressure, he played his best."
Now with a spot on the blue-line all but assured Karlsson can focus beyond day-to-day and look towards the bigger picture.
"I know all the drills and now I can focus a bit more on the hockey," said Karlsson, a native of Landsbro, Sweden. "I've got a year more experience and maybe I can focus on a few things that maybe I couldn't last year.
"I played 60 games last year and hopefully this year I'll play a few more. Everyone wants to improve, as do I, so the expectations are definitely higher than last year."
Karlsson could be needed to fill a bigger role sooner than later.
Sens blue-liner Filip Kuba left the ice early on in his first workout after catching a rut in the ice.
Kuba needed training staff to help him off the ice and was unable to put any weight on his right knee. He was taken to hospital for X-rays.
Karlsson has been blessed in a way during his young career. He was taken under the wing of fellow countryman and Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson last season, even living in Alfredsson's house with his wife and two young children.
He also had the support of seasoned veteran defenceman Chris Phillips to help guide him along his route into the NHL.
This year, Karlsson will gain from playing and practising alongside Sergei Gonchar, a 17-year NHL veteran who plays more of the offensive style of game that Karlsson is being bred for.
"I've been lucky to have such great leaders around and it's helped me a lot. I think they're going to do just as much for me this year as they did last year, so it's a comfort," Karlsson said.