William Karlsson of the Vegas Knights making a name for himself

There’s no doubt the Vegas Knights have been the NHL’s biggest surprise of the season and perhaps of all time. The team is already being hailed as the most successful expansion franchise in the history of pro sports. The squad was put together via an expansion draft in which the 30 other clubs left their unwanted players unprotected. It’s obvious numerous teams made big mistakes when evaluating the talent they had on hand and Vegas general manager George McPhee took advantage of them.

Sure, a few big-name players were left unprotected and it was a no-brainer picking up the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury and James Neal. However, the acquisition of 25-year-old Swedish centre William Karlsson has looked like a stroke of genius so far. The native of Marsta was second on the club in scoring as of March 11th with 35 goals and 26 assists for 61 points. The only teammate to top him was Jonathan Marchessault with his 22 goals and 43 assists.

Most fans had heard of Marchessault though as he had already put together a 30-goal season with Florida last year. In the grand scheme of things, Karlsson was a virtual unknown when McPhee plucked him from the Columbus Blue Jackets. It wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds though since there was some wheeling and dealing to negotiate before he was selected. Karlsson was left unprotected in the expansion draft and the Blue Jackets actually wanted Vegas to take him. In fact, they sent a first and second-round 2019 draft pick to Vegas on the condition they’d select the Swedish scorer.

The only snag to he deal was McPhee agreeing to take the outrageous contract of injured forward David Clarkson. But with a ton of salary cap space to work with McPhee believed it was well worth it. Karlsson has definitely proved this to be a smooth move since he was 30th in league point scoring and was also sixth in the NHL in goals scored at 35. He trailed Alexander Ovechkin and Patrik Laine for the league lead as they both had 40 and Karlsson has an outside shot at capturing the Rocket Richard Trophy.

The deal between Columbus and Vegas hasn’t been the only move of Karlsson’s career as he was traded to the Blue Jackets by Anaheim in March of 2015.  Rene Bourque, and a second-round draft pick accompanied him in return for James Wisniewski and a third-round pick. Karlsson was originally drafted in the second round with the 53rd overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft after starring in his homeland. He returned to Sweden to play and didn’t sign a three-year entry level contract with the Ducks until May of 2013.

Karlsson played just 18 regular-season games with Anaheim before being dealt to Columbus and chipped in with two goals and an assist. He played two full seasons with the Blue Jackets and racked up  16 goals and 31 assists for 47 points in 165 outings before being left unprotected in the expansion draft.  Karlsson has proven to be an excellent two-way player as he’s also leading the league in plus/minus stats this year at plus-38. His 29 even-strength goals were tops in the league and he also has five game winners.

Regardless of what happens with the Knights and Karlsson this season. He’s going to have his name in the franchise record books for scoring its first hat trick. He achieved this by netting three goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs on New Year’s Eve. But he’s also likely to have his name etched into the books as leading the teams in goals and plus/minus in its inaugural NHL campaign. And with a little luck he could top the entire league in goals scored and plus/minus. 

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