OTTAWA — Erik Karlsson will make his season debut for the Ottawa Senators against the Vancouver Canucks at Canadian Tire Centre on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; TSN5, SNV, NHL.TV).
Karlsson missed the first five games recovering from June 14 surgery to repair torn tendons in his left foot.
“It’s going to be good,” the 27-year-old defenseman said Monday. “I had the appropriate amount of time to get ready to play again. It’s exciting. I’m going to be a little bit rusty probably, but it’s better to get back into things as early as possible. Hopefully we’ll get better as we move on.”
Senators coach Guy Boucher said the benefits of Karlsson’s return will be immediate.
“I think he’s the best player in the world, so it basically has an impact on everything,” Boucher said. “Your breakouts, your transition, your [offensive] zone, your power play, your defensive play. I mean, it’s your leader. He is who he is. He’s such a presence. It’s not just a hockey player, it’s everything around it too. And it’s time.”
The Senators captain said his recovery and any urge to rush back has been eased by their 3-0-2 start. Ottawa has won three straight games after losing its first two in a shootout. The Senators and Los Angeles Kings (4-0-1) are the only teams in the NHL without a loss in regulation.
“It’s been easier for me to watch and be able to take my time and not get too antsy,” Karlsson said. “They’ve done a great job. I’m not coming in to do anything different. We’re going to keep doing the same things.”
Boucher said the timing is right for Karlsson’s return.
“Nothing is easy, but I think he comes back in a state of mind where he doesn’t have to come in and be the hero,” Boucher said. “I think it’s good for Erik to know that, so he doesn’t have all that pressure. Imagine if we had lost every game and he’d be coming in right now? I’m not sure that would be a good situation either.”
The Senators used 11 forwards and seven defensemen in their past two games, and that remains an option against the Canucks. Boucher said Karlsson could skate with different partners and no target has been set for how much he will play.
“We’re going to try to be smart here,” Boucher said. “We don’t need him to play 35 minutes. It’s going to be more about him, what he can take.”
Karlsson, who also sustained hairline fractures in his left heel during a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 28, said in September, “They took half of my ankle bone out” during the surgery.
When asked if his foot would be 100 percent, Karlsson said, “No, I don’t think it will be. But again, I don’t think I’ve been 100 percent since I entered this league. I don’t think anyone is. It’s something you’re going to have to get used to if you’re a pro athlete no matter what sport you play. As you get older, you’re never going to feel as good as you did when you were a kid.
“It feels different and it’s going to feel different for a long time probably. It’s something I’m going to have to get used to. Again, I think playing is the best way to adapt to that and getting back to a new normal.”
Karlsson has led the Senators in scoring the past four seasons. He was third among NHL defensemen with 71 points (17 goals, 54 assists) in 77 games last season and led defensemen with 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 19 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.