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Wild Bill Rides Again: Karlsson’s Start Has Been Huge for Vegas

Nov 4, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights center William Karlsson (71) warms up before a game against the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The title gives it away, but I am willing to bet that if I gave you a couple of guesses that you wouldn’t have easily been able to name William “Wild Bill” Karlsson as one of the Vegas Golden Knights’ leading scorers thus far into the 2023-24 campaign. Surely Jack Eichel’s name would have come up a ton, others may have offered Mark Stone as a potential answer, and others might have guessed Jonathan Marchessault following an impressive 2022-23 postseason run which saw him capture the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.

All would have been good guesses, but right now Karlsson sits atop the mountain, tied with Jack Eichel for the time being, with a stat line of 9-11-20. Karlsson’s currently pacing a line that would see him finish with 35 goals, 43 assists, and 78 points, although he’s certainly due for a cool off period which will bump his projections down.

His career-best season came during his first season with the Golden Knights, and during the 2017-18 season he scored 43 goals and added 35 assists for 78 points in 82 games, and he posted a line of 7-8-15 in 20 playoff games. Since that point he’s gradually trended down, although last season was the start of a resurgence for Karlsson.

He ended the regular season with 14 goals and 53 points, and caught fire in the playoffs finishing with 11 goals and 17 points in just 22 games. That fire stayed burning during the summer, and he’s off to an amazing start which has been huge for the Golden Knights.

Karlsson’s not just impressed using the numbers you can find at NHL dot com, but he’s also among the team leaders in numbers you can find on sites like Evolving-Hockey. Evolving-Hockey has a stat called Goals Above Replacement which is essentially an all-in number to give a sense of how a player contributes offensively and defensively for their team. There are then specific breakdowns of a player’s offensive and defensive “GAR” which explains how they play at even strength and on special teams.

In terms of total GAR, Karlsson leads the team with a rating of 7.1 which is includes an offensive GAR rating of 5.5 (1st), a defensive GAR of 1.4 (5th), and a positive penalty differential of 0.2. If you just look at even strength play, Karlsson leads the team with an offensive rating of 4.6, and his defensive rating of 1.2 is 5th-best on the team. He also leads the team with a power play offensive GAR of 0.9, while also being the one of the best penalty killers with a short-handed defensive GAR of 0.2.

The TL/DR of these numbers is that Karlsson is having an incredible start for the Golden Knights, and he’s contributing in multiple areas. His strong even strength play suggests that he should continue to have success for Vegas, and it isn’t a case of him inflating his stats on the power play and running up the score. It certainly is unlikely for him to shoot 18%+ all season, but in fairness he did shoot 23.4% the year he scored 43 goals… so maybe he’s just on pace to have another legendary year.

In any case, Karlsson has been great for the Golden Knights, and the fact that he’s leading the team in so many areas speaks to how talented the roster is, and how much of a threat the team is to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. I’d expect Eichel or Stone to overtake Karlsson at some point, but right now it is Wild Bill’s world and Vegas fans are enjoying every minute in it.