SAN JOSE – Melker Karlsson was one of the few bright spots on the Sharks during the mess that was the 2014-15 season. In 53 games, he posted 13 goals and 11 assists in being named as the organization’s Rookie of the Year. He was rewarded with a two-year, $3.3 million contract in the offseason.
This season, though, the 25-year-old has been one of the rare disappointments. Karlsson never really took that next step in his development, perhaps hindered by a lower body injury that kept him out from training camp until early November, and posted just 19 points (10g, 9a) in 65 games.
He’s suddenly in the spotlight in the Stanley Cup Final, though, as the replacement for Tomas Hertl on the Sharks’ top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. He spent the majority of Game 3 there, and with Hertl’s status still in doubt – coach Pete DeBoer said only that Hertl is day-to-day on Sunday – Karlsson will likely stick on the left wing with the two Sharks stars, where he spent the majority of his rookie season.
Karlsson said: “[Hertl] has done a really good job on that line and they like playing with him. It’s a tough break for him and for that line, but I’m trying to do my best to keep it a top line.”
“[Melker] made some great plays, created some energy and got in on the forecheck,” Pavelski said. “All the things that when we have played with Melk, that’s what he’s done. I think it was fine.”
In 17 minutes and 31 seconds of ice time, Karlsson didn’t record a shot on goal, while throwing four hits.
Still, he made a few deft plays. He set up Brent Burns in front with a between-the-legs pass from below the goal line that the Wookiee couldn't quite finish off, and then in overtime, his tenacity helped keep the Penguins pinned in their own zone just moments before Joonas Donskoi’s shot beat Matt Murray.
“I just went to my guy and really don’t know what happened,” Karlsson said of his play on the overtime goal.
Coach Pete DeBoer gave Karlsson more credit with helping the Sharks claim their first victory in the series.
“Melker, like the rest of our group, was great,” DeBoer said. “He was tenacious on the puck, he was in on the forecheck, caused the turnover on the overtime goal.”
DeBoer credits high-end players like Thornton and Pavelski for having the ability to seamlessly integrate other players into top line roles when necessary, much like the Penguins do. That can at least lessen the blow of losing a player like Hertl, who was probably the Sharks’ best forward through the first two games.
“I think when you have really good players up top, you can have those interchangeable parts,” DeBoer said. “Pittsburgh has got it. You look at the guys they pair with [Evgeni] Malkin or [Sidney] Crosby. They're not household names, some of them.
“Because you have quality people up top, you can stick in complementary guys like that, and they can be very effective. I think Melker is one of those guys.”