Erik Karlsson is the NHL’s top shot blocker — seriously

Chris Wideman and Kyle Turris scored in the third period to help the Ottawa Senators beat the Boston Bruins 3-1.

Russia’s Nikita Zaitsev was at September’s World Cup of Hockey, rhyming off a bunch of NHL defencemen he’d been admiring from overseas.

He named some usual suspects without comment: Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Victor Hedman… Then he said, “Erik Karlsson, in the offensive zone.”

Unlike the others on his list, the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ rookie felt the need to qualify where he appreciated the work of Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy winner and an annual threat to lead all D-men in points.

Karlsson’s reputation for being a one-dimensional blueliner is in serious jeopardy this fall.

He leads the NHL in both total blocked shots (61) and blocked shots per game (3.05) — and you don’t block pucks in the fun zone.

“He didn’t have a point, but he blocked eight shots yesterday in one game [a 3-1 win over Boston]. We have him out there against top lines. We have him out there in last minutes,” new Senators head coach Guy Boucher told Hockey Central Friday.

“Erik knows this team had to improve on the defensive side, and that’s where he’s leading.”

Quietly, the Ottawa Senators captain has increased his willingness to get in front of fired rubber. In 2014-15, he ranked 125th in blocked shots (1.09 per game) and won his second Norris. In 2015-16, he nearly doubled his rate to 2.13 blocks a night and ranked 11th overall in the category.

Now he’s Kris Russell with wings.

“It’s been a total treat having him be this way because that’s what the team needs,” Boucher said.

“Erik is at a point in his career where he’s done it all individually. He’s the best offensive defenceman. He’s got the awards that come with it and the recognition. Now as a captain — he’s 26 — he wants to win.”

Karlsson’s maturity was revealed to his coach early, when the Team Sweden rearguard requested to be Skyped in on Ottawa’s team meetings while he was busy playing in the World Cup.

He’s turned down off-days, arrives early and leaves late. Publicly, he has assumed responsibility for the Sens’ slow-starting offence and mediocre power play. And he’s even providing comic relief in the form of making fun of Dion Phaneuf.

Boucher is trying to monitor his stud’s minutes. Karlsson is “down” from first to third overall in time on ice, dropping from the 28:58 he skated under Dave Cameron to a mellow 27:14.

He still ranks fourth in scoring among D-men with 16 points and beat Carey Price for a game-winner this week, but it’s his sacrifice in the defensive zone that has impressed Boucher.

“There’s nothing more you want from your top guys,” Boucher said, drawing a Jonathan Toews comparison.

“That’s what you need to win.”

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