by Carly Grimaudo | AHL On The Beat Archive
Worcester is a thriving city, a hub of award-winning restaurants, elite colleges, museums, businesses and more. For this, among other reasons, it’s widely known by its inhabitants as the “Heart of the Commonwealth.”
To Melker Karlsson, new Worcesterite and 24-year-old Swedish member of the Worcester Sharks, it’s also known as a land of opportunity.
The 6-foot, 180-pound native of Lychsele, Sweden, ventured across the pond to Worcester, Mass., after signing a one-year contract with the San Jose Sharks in May. After hoisting the Le Mat Trophy, the Swedish Hockey League’s championship cup, the past two seasons with Skelleftea AIK, Karlsson has a couple of other trophies on his radar: the Calder Cup this year with Worcester, and Lord Stanley further down the road.
What brought Karlsson over to play professional North American hockey wasn’t just an airplane. Karlsson spent six seasons with Skelleftea, developing his play among Sweden’s top hockey players, and bested the rest of the league in both the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.
“That’s what got me here,” Karlsson said. “We got noticed by playing in the playoffs and because we won. I did pretty well in the playoffs there too. Right after the playoffs and after the season my phone rang, and my agent told me they were interested. I had no idea beforehand.”
A modest Karlsson didn’t just do “pretty well” for Skelleftea AIK. During the 2014 playoffs, he registered 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 14 games, ranking sixth in the SHL in playoff scoring, fourth in plus/minus (plus-9) and third among league forwards in blocked shots (16).
In his 71 career playoff games, which include four consecutive appearances in the SHL final (2011-2014), Karlsson posted nine goals and registered 23 assists totaling 32 points.
It’s no doubt Karlsson can perform well under the pressure of elimination games, and after back-to-back championships in his past two seasons, he’s looking to make a playoff run for the fifth season in a row, this time with Worcester.
“I like playing in the playoffs,” he said. “I’m used to winning and that’s what I’m taking with me. I hate to lose and now we’re off to a great start here so it feels good. It feels pretty much the same.”
After missing the first two games of the season with an injury, Karlsson debuted in the Sharks’ nail-biting home opener, tallying a goal in the overtime win and his first North American appearance vs. Providence on Oct. 18. Since then, Karlsson (3-5-8) and his linemates, Micheal Haley (5-3-8) and Ryan Carpenter (4-4-8), continue to produce for the team, as all three are tied for third on the club in points.
“Our line has been sticking together all the time and I think we work hard,” said Karlsson. “We scored some goals too,” he added.
Sharks head coach Roy Sommer agrees.
“Their line plays really well and they play a lot of minutes,” Sommer said. “They play well on the forecheck and is a line that I like to match up with our opponents’ top lines.”
Karlsson’s noteworthy play has made him a key skater in the Sharks’ specialty situations too, slotting time on both the power play and the penalty kill. In fact, two of Karlsson’s three goals were with the man advantage, though he’s hoping to increase that number.
“I’ve been fortunate to play the power play a little bit and the penalty kill too. I like playing both of them and I think I’ll be playing more special teams now,” Karlsson said. “With Roy, if you don’t play well on the power play, you’re not going to play and I like that. If you don’t work hard you don’t play, and that’s his style.”
While Karlsson’s current plans are to help the Worcester Sharks to their first playoff appearance since 2010, his future ones, like many other AHL players, are to get a shot at playing in the National Hockey League.
“I came here to play in the NHL,” he stated. “That’s my dream and I think this is the way to do it.”
Sommer has all the faith in the world that Karlsson will achieve his dream, and even has confidence that his shot may come during the current season.
“Karlsson is one of those rare kids you find, playing this well in his first year in North America,” he noted. “He’s played like a North American since the day he got [here] and he’ll see some game up in San Jose this year for sure.”
Though in a new city, in a new league, and on a new team, not all in his life in Worcester is unfamiliar. Karlsson’s longtime Skelleftea teammate Petter Emanuelsson also joined the Worcester Sharks this season and the two, who can usually be found attached at the hip, have eased each other’s off-ice transition from Sweden to Worcester.
“It helps when you have one friend already,” Karlsson said. “You can talk to him about anything, but you also meet new guys and learn a lot about the arena and the team pretty quickly.”
In his spare time, which is quite limited, Karlsson has been slowly getting acclimated to his new city by exploring the local eateries and shopping malls. On a recent day off, he was even able to venture outside the Worcester perimeter, though only to Boston.
“I went to Boston on a day we had off and stopped at the aquarium,” Karlsson said. “I wanted to see some sharks. They didn’t have them though, they only has small ones, but I wanted to see the big ones,” he joked.
Boston’s absence of sharks is probably because all the big ones are in Worcester, swimming their way to the top of the Atlantic Division and a feasible playoff spot come April, with the help of Melker Karlsson.