Rejuvenated Erik Karlsson excited for new opportunity to contend with Penguins

Erik Karlsson speaks to the media about why he is looking forward to playing in Pittsburgh, saying that he is excited for a chance to contend with the veteran team.

Star defenceman Erik Karlsson has rediscovered his love of the game and the reigning Norris Trophy winner is now hoping to bring that spark to the Pittsburgh Penguins with his eyes on the top prize in hockey.

Karlsson captured the league’s top defenceman award for the third time in his career last season, however, the San Jose Sharks missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year and led to a summer of swirling trade rumours.

The 33-year-old Swede was finally dealt to the Penguins in a blockbuster trade on Sunday that also involved the Montreal Canadiens. San Jose received a 2024 first-round pick, forward Mikael Granlund and defenceman Jan Rutta from the Penguins plus forward Mike Hoffman from the Canadiens. Montreal acquired goaltender Casey DeSmith, defenceman Jeff Petry, a 2025 second-round pick and prospect Nathan Legare from the Penguins. Pittsburgh also received forward Rem Pitlick and prospect Dillon Hamaliuk from Montreal plus San Jose’s 2026 third-round pick.

Karlsson spoke to the Pittsburgh media for the first time since the trade on Wednesday and explained why he’s glad to join the Penguins after a long summer.

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“I was very excited about the opportunity to have a chance to go somewhere where I could be on a team that was contending,” Karlsson said. “It was a lot of ups and downs and it was really hard to get a grasp on where things were actually at because obviously, I wasn’t in most of the conversations behind the scenes. … I’m familiar with Pittsburgh from my days starting in Ottawa and so on and kinda knew quite a bit about it without really knowing that much. It was exciting when I heard that they were interested, so I’m happy that it worked out in the end.”

Karlsson established himself as a premier offensive defenceman during his time with the Ottawa Senators — who drafted him 15th overall in 2008 — capturing the Norris Trophy in 2012 and 2015 and serving as the team’s captain for four seasons.

He was traded to San Jose in September 2018 and reached the Western Conference Final in his first season with the club. That led to Karlsson signing an eight-year, $92 million contract with the Sharks, however, it turned out to be the only time he even made it to the playoffs in San Jose.

Despite missing the post-season once more last season, Karlsson said he found “joy” in the game again after recording a career-high 101 points in 82 games.

“I don’t know the reason for a lot of things but I think, first off, I’ve been healthy for a longer period of time now. I think that really showed and it made me feel a lot better about myself in a lot of different ways,” Karlsson said. “I think my personal life and my family is in a good place and kind of settled a little bit. It’s just been a lot of things throughout the years I think that have been hard to deal with in a way. At the time, you don’t really think it affects you that much but looking back it’s always not as easy to deal with certain things like injuries and some other stuff.

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“I feel like I’m in a really good spot in my life right now. I had a lot of fun playing hockey last year and coming to the rink every day even though it wasn’t under the easiest of circumstances and we didn’t win many games. I credit everybody in San Jose from the coaching staff to my teammates there. We had fun together and we made it fun coming in and putting in the work. That was something that looking back probably was missing a little bit from the previous years.”

Karlsson denied he had a “strained relationship” in San Jose with fellow defenceman Brent Burns, who the Sharks traded to the Carolina Hurricanes prior to last season.

“We’re actually pretty good friends personally,” Karlsson said. “I just think that when you don’t do well as a team collectively, things don’t tend to work out for anyone and it didn’t for a long time. It’s just unfortunate that it played out that way.

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“I don’t foresee it to be any issues whatsoever coming in here where you have a lot of strong players that have been here for a long time and have had extreme success. I’m excited to be able to work alongside guys like that and to learn things and to progress my game. I hope that what I bring is going to help them out as well. I think at the end of the day we’re all trying to do the same thing which is to win hockey games and to win a Cup.”

The Stanley Cup remains Karlsson’s target and is hoping by joining a core featuring Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang who have won it three times will help him reach that elusive goal.

“It’s always been the ultimate drive I think for myself. I like to play the important games and I like to be on successful teams and having success collectively as a group,” Karlsson said. “Obviously I’ve played against Pittsburgh many times and lost to them a few times when they went on to win the ultimate prize. That’s something that they know how to do here and the players that they’ve had here for a really long time are still really good players.

“I’m really excited to step into that group and learn a lot of things and also at the same time, hopefully bring some new things and help them become even better because that’s what I think you have to do within a group is to help each other out and push each other. I feel like from the whole organization here and this team that’s something that they’ve been very good at for a long time and I feel like that’s something they still have in them and I’m really excited to be a part of that.”

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