Turn back the clock with me to March 2nd, 2015. James Wisniewski has, very much against his will, just been traded to the Anaheim Ducks. In return, Columbus gets Rene Bourque, a second round pick, and a recently signed Swedish kid named William Karlsson.
Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, Karlsson had been solid in the SHL, putting up reasonably good numbers for HV71, and earned a brief look at the NHL level with Anaheim, scoring his first two NHL goals in one game before being sent back down to Norfolk a few days later.
Calling him a “tweener” would have been reasonable. Even considering him a throw in to help balance the bad contacts being traded between the two clubs.
Only a few people dared suggest that Karlsson was actually the centerpiece of the trade, and fewer still would say Columbus won the deal by getting him.
Today, however, it’s quite clear the Jackets did just that. While Wiz was benched in Anaheim and struggled to find a roster spot in Carolina before a devastating injury, Karlsson has become the anchor to the Blue Jackets bottom six, driving possession on the ice and making his teammates better through strong playmaking skills. In his first full NHL season, he’s shown a gift for defensive positioning and anticipation that makes him a dangerous counter-puncher, easily capable of turning a play around on the opposing team and bringing the puck back up the ice for a scoring threat.
Outlook for 2016-2017
Coming into camp, it’s likely that “Wild Bill” will have the fourth line center position locked down, but a solid performance in the preseason could see him taking on a third line role behind Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky, and given more responsibility against top competition. After putting up 9-11-20 last year, I’m personally expecting Karlsson to score 10+ goals for the first time in his NHL career, and to meet and exceed his previous scoring totals as he’s given more ice time and responsibility.