Sharks expect healthy Karlsson to be top defenseman again

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The San Jose Sharks expect Erik Karlsson to again be one of the top defensemen in the NHL next season.

“I think his best hockey is now and going forward,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said of Karlsson on a Zoom call Friday. “It might be the first time he’s been 100 percent healthy since he’s been with us.”

Karlsson, 30, is a two-time Norris Trophy winner, but he struggled with injuries in his first two seasons with the Sharks after they acquired him in a trade from the Ottawa Senators on Sept. 13, 2018.

Karlsson was limited to 53 games in the 2018-19 season because of a groin injury that required surgery after the season. He missed San Jose’s last 13 games this season after breaking his thumb Feb. 14, another injury that required surgery.

The NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. The Sharks were not one of the 24 teams that participated in the NHL Return to Play Plan.

But Wilson said he spoke to Karlsson on Thursday and the defenseman told him he is 100 percent healthy and skating with no limitations.

“I think he’s one of the best players in this game with a lot of the top defensemen at that age group, whether it be Roman Josi [Nashville Predators] or Drew Doughty [Los Angeles Kings],” Wilson said. “Erik has great pride. I think last year he had a disjointed start. At the beginning of the season he had a lot going on in his life with a newborn baby. … He had an offseason [in 2019] where he had surgery and was able to rehab it to a certain point, whether or not he had enough time to rehab it and then build up the strength and conditioning he needed. Now he’s been able to put all that behind him. He said he feels fantastic.”

Video: CGY@SJS: Karlsson nets one-timer from the circle

Karlsson scored 40 points (six goals, 34 assists) in 56 games this season after scoring 45 points (three goals, 42 assists) in 2018-19.

“Erik has been able to put a lot of work in,” Wilson said. “Talked to him yesterday, he sounds great. He wishes he was here and we were playing games today. I think you’re about to see Erik Karlsson be one of the dominant players in the game again.”

Wilson also said Sharks forwards Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture also are healthy after being injured when the season was paused.

Hertl was out with a torn ACL that required surgery, an injury he sustained against the Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 29. He scored 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) in 48 games before the injury.

Couture was injured against the Colorado Avalanche on March 8 when a deflected puck hit him in the face. He also missed 17 games, from Jan. 9-Feb. 23, with a fractured ankle. He scored 39 points (16 goals, 23 assists) in 52 games.

“Getting them back rested on top of their game is the most important thing for us,” Wilson said. “Your best players have to be your best players. It allows everybody else to slot down in the roles properly for them. That’s a key to us.”

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