Canucks’ Karlsson finding his groove

Darren Francis Photography

📝 by Laura Kirk | AHL On The Beat

It’s no surprise that the transition from European hockey to North American hockey is a hard one.

Trying to adjust to the smaller rink and faster game play is challenging enough without trying to navigate an entirely different landscape at the same time.

Abbotsford Canucks forward Linus Karlsson was faced with both.

Karlsson played his first professional season in the Swedish Hockey League in 2021-22, where his 46 points brought him the Rookie of the Year award, an honor once held by Vancouver Canucks All-Star Elias Pettersson.

The 23-year-old winger was acquired by Vancouver from San Jose in 2019 and has quickly become an integral piece of Abbotsford’s 2022-23 season.

“It’s tough to come here from another country,” said Karlsson, who moved from Sweden to Canada for his first professional campaign in North America.

Besides the weather, Abbotsford and Sweden are “pretty different,” according to Karlsson, who had to get used to a new country and a new team all at once. Despite knowing a few other Swedish players in the Canucks organization, Karlsson was the only Swede playing in Abbotsford until the end of December. Until that point, he only had a handful of familiar faces around him.

“I met some guys at (development) camp before, but no one else,” Karlsson said.

Another major challenge he was faced with was the language.

“I know I wasn’t that good,” admitted Karlsson, who had to get a hang of the English language quickly upon arrival. “I was nervous to speak English.”

Yet those nerves never showed up on the ice, as Karlsson’s game play spoke for itself. In his first seven games with Abbotsford, Karlsson put up 10 points, including a multi-point night during his AHL debut. The next night Karlsson scored with overtime goal in the Canucks’ first win of the season against Bakersfield.

During Abbotsford’s Oct. 28 home opener, Karlsson caught the eye of the Canucks faithful with a one-goal, two-assist performance. The Swede was fast to show his skill on the ice and he seemed to be right on his way to the top of the leaderboard.

By the end of October, Karlsson proved to the Canucks organization that he was one to watch.

After his impressive first seven games of his North American hockey career, he constantly showed up on the ice for his teammates. However, his scoring tear was put on pause, tallying just one helper in his next nine games.

“I had a really tough mid-season,” he said.

Thankfully, Karlsson’s time in the SHL helped to prepare him for both the positive and negative attention that comes with being under the prospect microscope.

“I don’t think about it that much,” Karlsson said. “I know what they expect from me. I just want to be a scorer.”

And a scorer he became.

Entering Tuesday’s meeting with Manitoba, Karlsson has posted a total of 40 points, including a team-best 17 goals. He also leads the Canucks in game-winning goals (4) and is one of only two skaters to appear in all 56 of Abbotsford’s games so far this season.

But Karlsson says the proudest moment of his season isn’t the time he spent leading the league in rookie scoring, his three-point performance during Abbotsford’s home opener, or the two incredible between-the-legs goals he accomplished. He is most proud of getting back up after his mid-season stumble.

“I’m really proud that I got through it and found a way to build on something,” he said.

As for his off-ice challenges, Karlsson says his English skills are becoming “better and better” and has settled into the Abbotsford Centre well.

“Everyone is taking care of me really nicely,” he said of his teammates.

With improvements on all fronts in his first professional campaign in North America, Karlsson feels well on his way to his ultimate dream: the NHL.

“I’m still working on the player I am now,” Karlsson said, crediting small details as an ingredient to his recipe for success. “I can still be better, and I still have a lot to learn. Hopefully I get up there (to Vancouver) someday.”

Until that day comes, Karlsson says he is just enjoying his time in Abbotsford, keeping a focus on the little things until the call comes.