Why Klingberg isn't surprised by EK65's hot start to season

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Anaheim Ducks defenseman John Klingberg isn’t surprised by Erik Karlsson's renaissance this season.

It’s been five seasons since Karlsson has finished in the top 15 in scoring from the blue line, and that was after a remarkable seven-year run, from 2011 to 2018, in which the Swede accumulated 110 points more than any other defender. But through 14 games this season, Karlsson leads all NHL defensemen with 10 goals and 19 points.

While Klingberg couldn’t have predicted Karlsson’s record-setting pace to open this campaign, he knew over the summer that his countryman, beset by injuries over the last half-decade, was on the comeback trail. That's because Klingberg and Karlsson both work out with Gothenburg, Sweden-based personal trainer Peter Fröberg in the offseason.

“You can just tell that he was really excited to have a good year,” Klingberg told San Jose Hockey Now. “You can just tell that he was really into, when he was doing something, that he was actually focusing on it. Instead of just being halfway doing it, [he was] doing it for a purpose.”

That's not to say Karlsson wasn’t focused during his offseason training in previous years. But he's clearly in a healthier and happier place in recent years.

Looking just at Karlsson’s offseasons as a member of the Sharks, in the summer of 2019, he was recovering from May groin surgery. In the summer of 2020, the world was in the grip of COVID-19. In the summer of 2021, he finally enjoyed a normal offseason in teal and responded with 26 points in his first 33 games, though that quick start cut short by midseason forearm surgery. And now, the two-time Norris Trophy winner has put himself at the forefront of the conversation to again win the NHL’s top defenseman award.

“It goes hand and hand, for sure,” Klingberg said, not specifically about Karlsson, about the link between what’s going on off the ice and what we see on the ice. “Everyone’s dealing with something all the time. It’s not like fans and media see that either. You never know.”

It’s not just Karlsson’s eye-popping numbers that have caught Klingberg’s attention: “When I’ve seen him play this year, it just looks like he’s more active and more aggressive in everything he’s doing.”

It takes one to know one. But, like Karlsson, Klingberg is a high-octane offensive defenseman. From his 2014-15 rookie campaign to last season, the Ducks star is eighth among all NHL blueliners with 374 points.

“Because we’re [somewhat] similar players, when I feel myself attacking and involved in a lot of ways, you can just see when he’s got confidence and when he thinks it’s a lot of fun to play because that’s when he’s moving a lot instead of may be reacting,” the 30-year-old rearguard shared. “That’s a part of my game, too. So, it’s easy for me to read when I see that he’s having a lot of fun when he’s playing hockey.”

Even though they’re in the same division now, Klingberg is happy to see Karlsson's success.

Both from the Gothenburg area, Klingberg followed 32-year-old Karlsson’s footsteps by spending his formative years with local SHL side Frolunda. And that’s not the only place where Klingberg did that.

It might be the age of reigning Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar, when we’re talking about the modern attacking defenseman, but Klingberg credits Karlsson with ushering in this new age.

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“He kind of changed the game to be this true offensive defenseman,” Klingberg said. “That’s why I think you see a lot of really good Swedish defensemen [coming up] because he was the first guy to do it. Then coaches and [the Swedish] Hockey Federation started [emphasizing] that stuff, too. He was kind of the guy who set the tone for it.”

So, from one “OG” offensive defenseman to another, Klingberg is loving the Karlsson comeback: “I don’t think anyone is surprised. We know how good he is.”

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