2019-20 Player Review: William Karlsson remains Vegas’ top center

Long gone is the 40-goal season, but Karlsson remains a well-rounded presence.

In the 2019-20 Player Review series, we revisit and evaluate the individual performances of Vegas Golden Knights players from last year’s regular season and extended playoff format. NOTE: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games will be included.

William Karlsson has had a profound impact on the Vegas Golden Knights in his three-year tenure. In the first season, he was an elite goal scorer who put up 43 goals including one against Martin Jones that remains in highlight reels. But in the past two seasons, Karlsson has transitioned into a center who can play on all three units (even strength, power play and penalty kill) and who has figured out how to drive possession while letting his linemates score.

Season in review

Karlsson’s total of 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) this season was the lowest he’s scored while with the Golden Knights. Yet in just 63 games, his 0.73 points-per-game pace is the second-best of his career, and he put up his best assist pace (0.49 per game). Over the course of a full season, Karlsson would have scored about 60 points, which is still a significant sum.

Of Karlsson’s 31 assists, 19 were primary. That’s the third best mark on the Golden Knights’ roster in 2019-20, and it was done with the eighth-most time (fifth-most among forwards). Two of Karlsson’s 15 goals were also scored while shorthanded, and five of his 46 points came on the penalty kill. He added another shorthanded goal in the postseason. He remains a shorthanded threat and one of the best “power killers” in the league.

While Karlsson disappointed in the postseason — his 0.5 points-per-game pace was the worst of his career — name a forward who didn’t disappoint production-wise in the postseason for Vegas. Still, heading into this season, there is room for improvement for Karlsson, who should remain at the top of Vegas’ center depth chart.

Karlsson’s regular season, however, was his usual well-rounded performance. His 7.9 goals above replacement and 1.4 wins above replacement (metrics which measure a player’s individual impact versus league average) and 7.5 expected GAR and 1.3 expected WAR (the same metrics but minus luck) show his excellence in the regular season.

Karlsson, like the best of two-way skaters, maintained a positive turnover rate as well. His 54 takeaways in the regular season was accompanied by just 37 giveaways. Creating those turnovers can help lead to scoring, and it’s a skill Karlsson has maintained in each of his three Vegas seasons. He also managed a positive penalty ratio by drawing seven and taking just four.

Meanwhile, he had this effect on the penalty kill:

Net-front shots were limited with Karlsson on the ice, and he also helped eliminate shots from the royal road — the strip of ice extending vertically from the crease. He had a similar impact on the power play, as the unit went from nine percent better than league average without Karlsson to 18 percent with him.

Additionally, Karlsson finished above 50 percent at the dots for the first time in his career. He won 51.9 percent of his draws in the 2019-20 season, with 491 wins to 455 losses. He may not be scoring as much anymore — a result of a plummeting shooting percentage as much as anything (10.9 percent in 2019-20, down from 14.2 percent in 2018-19) — but he continues to be a lethal two-way force.

Standout moment

If it’s possible for a stretch of games to be a standout moment, Vegas’ eight-game winning streak from Feb. 13 to Feb. 28 was Karlsson’s. After a five-game skid, tied for the longest losing streak in Vegas’ season but the longest without earning a point in the standings, Karlsson helped get the Golden Knights back in the win column on Feb. 13 against the St. Louis Blues, adding two assists in a 6-5 victory, both primary.

During that eight-game stretch, Karlsson had eight points, with three of them coming as a hat trick against the Anaheim Ducks, another 6-5 victory.

That was Karlsson’s third hat trick with Vegas and first since March 18, 2018.

Looking ahead

Karlsson likely will start the season on the first line and remain a fixture in Vegas’ top six, power play and penalty kill. Karlsson is signed through 2026. He’ll look to have a similar influence away from the scoreboar as he did in the 2019-20 season and hope for an uptick in shooting percentage on the scoreboard. After all, the Golden Knights had the 24th-lowest PDO in the league last season, and Karlsson is one of the Vegas players hoping for a reversal of luck.

How would you grade Karlsson’s performance in 2019-20

A+ or A7
A- or B+14
B or B-6
C+ or C0
C- or below0