LAS VEGAS — Much like his team, William Karlsson has arrived in a big way this season.
The Golden Knights’ young Swedish centre scored his 40th goal of the season and added two assists in Monday’s playoff-clinching win over Colorado and once again displayed the type of play that has made him a pivotal part of Vegas’ impressive inaugural run.
Karlsson, who this season has more goals than in his previous stints with the Blue Jackets and Ducks combined, has helped form one of the most dangerous lines in the NHL playing alongside Jonathan Audy-Marchessault and Reilly Smith.
"He shows up every night, he works hard, and he helps me be a better player and I help him to be a better player," Marchessault said. "I just love playing with a high-quality player like that. It doesn’t happen often in a career, to have a connection like that. Me, Karly and Smitty, we have something special. We know that, and I think it makes it fun every night."
The Golden Knights were the first team in the NHL with five different 20-goal scorers this season, and Karlsson leads the way with his 40, fourth-best in the league. Marchessault (24) and Smith (22) have also scored at least 20 goals this season. Meanwhile, Karlsson is tied for 27th in the league with 69 points. It’s a big reason the expansion Golden Knights lead the Pacific Division with six games remaining.
"That’s what happens when you play with good players. I’ve always wanted to be a top-six forward in the NHL," said Karlsson, who’s affectionately known as Wild Bill. "It’s good to know that I can do it, that I can be a top-six forward in this league. That feels really good to know after playing a defensive role the last couple of seasons. I got the chance here, playing with great players, and I’m happy that I took the chance. It’s been great so far, but we’re not nearly done."
According to his teammates and coach Gerard Gallant, Karlsson’s diligence on the defensive end is what makes him such a special player. It’s not uncommon to see him start plays several passes before he’s on the receiving end of a would-be goal.
"I’m impressed by his goals, obviously, and his play offensively, but what people don’t realize is a lot of guys that have so many points are not especially great two-way players, not complete players," centre Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. "When there is a goal, often … I mean, five plays before he finishes, he’s the one creating that play because he plays the right way or he’s saying the right stuff. For me, that’s the most impressive part."
Gallant said he knew the type of player he was getting in Karlsson coming into the Knights’ inaugural season. And while Gallant would have never predicted the types of numbers Karlsson has, he’s putting forth the effort Gallant expected to blend well with the likes of Marchessault and Smith.
"You look at the line, they’re all high-plus players," Gallant said. "They’ve built chemistry all year long. It’s every night these guys are making good plays, and that’s important to our team. We talk about having 20 guys playing every night, and most nights we got it. But when these guys are hot like they are, they make your team go.
"Reilly Smith is one of the best two-way players in the league in my opinion. Marchy has had a great year both offensively and defensively. That’s what our team is, we work hard at both ends of the rink and that’s why we’re having success."