Recently, I was lucky enough to convince Justin Goldman* of the Goalie Guild to share some of his thoughts on new Flames goalie prospect Henrik Karlsson.
*Background – My name is Justin Goldman and I’m the founder of The Hockey Guild, a hockey event/promotions company based in Colorado. I started the Guild on June 1, 2007 in order to advance and enhance the local hockey experience in Colorado. Before I started this company,
I was the editor-in-chief of the Colorado Hockey Insider for over three years. CHI was a monthly hockey magazine I developed and built up alongside my publisher, from 2003-2007. I have been a proud member of the Pro Hockey Writer’s Association (PHWA) since 2007 and I currently host two Colorado Avalanche radio shows here in Denver. Goaltending is my main passion, so you can learn more about The Goalie Guild and our scouting services at www.thegoalieguild.com at any time.
1.) You’ve been effusive in your praise for Karlsson since the Flames acquired him at the draft. What would you say his major strengths are?
Henrik Karlsson has tremendous size and a very solid, complete set of Swedish butterfly skills. He has great situational awareness and excellent patience, giving him a calm and composed demeanor. His combination of size and mobility allows him to employ an effective hybrid style. By that I mean he can make saves by blocking the puck with his strong positioning, but he has the reflexes and agility to make the reactionary, desperate save as well. One of his most noticeable strengths will be his ability to fill the net in an efficient, effortless and imposing manner. He is a big dude with an assertive attitude. He not easily rattled and he demands a lot of space in the crease. These are all traits that I have seen in numerous videos and would be considered strengths of his.
I suggest your readers check out our scouting report on Karlsson from a few months ago, which includes one of these videos and can be found here: http://www.thegoalieguild.com/
2.) You recently rated him as the 30th best goaltending prospect in the world, ahead of both Keetley and Irving. Is Karlsson a good bet to land the backup role in Calgary next year? In addition, do you see him being capable of being the starter should Kipper get hurt at any point?
Just to clarify, the Top-100 Rankings I have is for Long-Term Prospects and only includes goalies that have less than 25 games of NHL experience. So his age and his current opportunity is the main reason he has vaulted so high, so quickly. Although he has no experience in North America, a goalie that most fans learned about quickly last year – Jonas Gustavsson – just went through a similar situation and did an excellent job adjusting to the smaller ice rink and had a tremendous finish to the season. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see Karlsson go through a similar progression, but because he is older and more experienced, Karlsson’s transition should be smoother. He has a great mentor in Miikka Kiprusoff and with some performance bonuses tied into his contract, I think it’s safe to say he’s a lock as Calgary’s backup. Leland Irving has to prove himself in the AHL this season and bounce back strong from a rough season, so there’s no point in sitting him on the bench in Calgary for 60 games. Matt Keetley would have to perform god-like in training camp to even get a sniff at the job.
Regarding injuries to Kiprusoff, it would depend on the timing. There are many UFA’s out there that will work for cheap. If Kiprusoff gets hurt early and Karlsson has hardly played, you’ll see them bring in a veteran. If Kiprusoff is hurt late in the season, the Flames are in the playoffs (or way out), they will most likely give Karlsson as many games as possible. I can’t say for sure this is Calgary’s plan of action, but that’s how I would handle it. They could do a myriad of other things, but those are likely scenarios. Karlsson is capable of logging heavy minutes and has the workhorse mentality. And since the Flames have to scout him in order to make a well-rounded decision when it comes time to sign or pass next June, he will get opportunities to play regardless of what’s happening.
3.) You’ve noted more than once that Karlsson is similar to Leaf Jonas Gustavsson. In what ways would you compare them?
Aside from what I said above about the transitioning process from being a solid Elitserien goalie to an NHL rookie with no playing experience in North America, they both had the same goalie coach, Erik Granqvist, at Farjestad. Granqvist is a very progressive and elite goalie coach in Sweden and worked wonders with Gustavsson in a short period of time. Karlsson was learning the exact same things and was under the exact same tutelage. Like most elite goalie coaches, Granqvist tailored his teachings to enhance Karlsson’s unique style, which works wonders for their future. Karlsson comes over with all of the tools needed to succeed. If you get a chance to talk to Jamie McClennan about his first impressions and I bet one of the things he mentions is the structure to his game – a sign of very good coaching. There are many other smaller similarities between the two, which I discuss in the scouting report I linked to earlier.
4.) Despite being 26 years old, Karlsson has never made the jump to North American Hockey. Any indications why?
To be honest and to-the-point, Swedish goalies sometimes take longer to develop the skills needed to succeed on a smaller ice surface. So being 26 years old and in his position, with about six years of experience in the SEL, is pretty much perfect. He has experience, his confidence won’t be destroyed if he gives up a few bad goals and overall he just has great fundamentals. This is right about the age and time a goalie truly understands the mental capacities needed to succeed in the NHL for more than a season. Gustavsson was younger and you could tell he was playing with very little confidence in the first half of the season. I really don’t think you’ll notice much pressure at all on Karlsson’s shoulders.
5.) What are some weaknesses Karlsson will have to work on?
Don’t freak out, but everything. He’s never played on a smaller rink before. So everything from angles, positioning and reading plays will need work. Skating before training camp opens will help, as will training camp itself. But nothing matches the intensity and speed of the regular season game. Flames fans should be advised not to get upset if he struggles in the first half. It’s going to happen. He’s going to need time to adjust to the speed and skill of players in the NHL. In fact, the more support he gets from fans and teammates, the better he will become. It’s a natural nurturing process that goes quicker for some European imports and slower for others. I would expect him to transition a little smoother than Gustavsson, however.
Specifically, Karlsson has to improve his blocker side. He has a tendency to punch at pucks as opposed to directing them to the corners. He is not considered a strong puck mover, either. Finally, plays in tight and right around his crease will be an area of concern, as goalies in Sweden play with a full half-circle crease. The NHL uses a truncated crease, which makes it tougher for goalies to see shots cleanly, or without players directly to either side of them. So he’ll have to work much harder at battling through more screens and traffic than ever before, which is not an easy thing to do in the NHL. Watch for these dynamics coming into play more clearly when he’s killing off penalties.
(Thanks again to Justiin for the outstanding replies. Make sure to visit him at the Goalie Guild.)