OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators are once again turning to a young Swede to lead the organization.
The Senators named star defenceman Erik Karlsson as the ninth captain in franchise history on Thursday. The announcement came 15 years after Daniel Alfreddson started his long and successful run wearing the "C" in Ottawa.
Karlsson takes over the leadership role from Jason Spezza, who was captain for just one year before being traded to the Dallas Stars this summer.
The Senators added to the day's excitement announcing a new US$50.75 million, seven-year contract extension for forward Bobby Ryan.
Karlsson was the odds-on favourite to become the new captain, as there's little debate that he is now the face of the franchise.
At 24, Karlsson appears poised to embrace the new responsibility.
"It's an incredible opportunity," Karlsson said. "It's a task that's very rare and it's not something that you can prepare for really. It's a little bit surprising to me as well and it's a bit overwhelming, but I'm ready for what is to come.
"I'm really looking forward to what it has to bring and I'm excited about the team and about the upcoming season and even beyond that. I'm just very, very thrilled right now."
Chris Phillips and Chris Neil will remain as alternate captains.
Speculation as to who would be the new captain began as soon as Spezza's trade was announced. The Senators said they were in no rush to name a replacement and wanted to take the time to make the right choice.
In the end general manager Bryan Murray said the decision was clear.
"We knew in the very near future he was going to be (captain) and we finally just decided that if he's going to be it why not be it now," Murray said. "I think his growth off the ice, his attitude, the conversations we've had since last year and the fact he's back to full health and really wanting to be a focal point of this hockey team — all those reasons. The most important one obviously was we just felt he was the right guy because he had that personality to step up and take charge and be forceful, but considerate of his teammates."
Murray said consideration for Karlsson to take on a greater leadership role began as far back as last year's exit meetings.
"There was a tough decision to make here," Murray said. "We had a couple other guys that are very responsible, good veteran players, but we just felt we had to turn the team over to a guy that could carry this team for a number of years and not be changing every year or two the captain's role or whatever.
"Erik really indicated to me, and over the summer the few times that we talked, that he sure sounded like a guy who wanted responsibility, wanted to be a different team than last year and he came into camp and I think he's shown that.
"I think he's back to where he can be as a player and he'll show that he can take charge of helping us be a real good team over the course of time."
Karlsson was far from his best last season as he dealt with personal issues and the recovery from a lacerated Achilles tendon the previous campaign. Despite that he still managed to score 20 goals and add 54 assists.
Karlsson was approached Wednesday about taking over the captaincy. He said he was honoured to be asked and didn't hesitate to accept the offer.
The 2012 Norris trophy winner knows he will be under greater scrutiny, but says he was fortunate to have spent time playing under both Alfredsson, one of his best friends, and Spezza.
"I'll never be Alfie, I'll never be Spezz, I'll be myself and I'll lead probably in a different way than other players will and that's how it is for everyone," Karlsson said. "No one can or should shape themselves exactly after someone else. We are who we are and I was fortunate to be around Alfie and learn from him and take the best things from him and also from Spezz and Philly (Phillips) and Neiler (Neil) as well. Just being around a lot of experienced, good guys it helps you shape yourself into who you want to be."
Karlsson shared the news with Alfredsson prior to the official announcement and said the former captain was pleased for him.
The signing of Ryan solidifies the Senators lineup as they now have Karlsson, Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur signed to long-term deals.
Ryan, who was acquired after Alfredsson chose to sign with Detroit as a free agent in the summer of 2013, has been a fan favourite from the start and says choosing to commit long-term was a "no brainer" for he and his fiancée.
"I love the city. I love the fans. Everybody has been so embracing and genuinely good-hearted hockey fans and I like being surrounded by that and on top of that I think the team is on the uptake obviously," he said. "Say what you want on the outside of things, but I think a lot of people in the room are very, very happy with where we're at and where we're going to be over the course of my next seven years, but ultimately overall."
Murray said it was always the organization's intent to sign Ryan to a long-term extension and was pleased to get it done sooner rather than later to avoid it becoming a distraction.
"We had been talking to Bobby for quite some time," Murray said. "He just wanted to take a little bit of time and make sure for him that he was comfortable where he fit here and obviously he is."
Only Phil Kessel has more goals than Ryan among American players since 2008-09. Kessel has 192 goals through 434 games, while Ryan has 165 goals in 425 games.
"We know he's a good player; we know he's an important player for us; we know goals are hard to come by in the NHL and if you don't have that kind of player in your lineup over the course of time it makes it difficult to win games," Murray said. "I think Bobby's shown he can be the goal scorer in the moment of an important part of a game that can help us win."
Defenceman Marc Methot remains the lone player who has yet to be re-signed as he enters the final year of his contract, but Murray said a new offer has been sent to Methot's agent, Larry Kelly.
"We are trying to indicate to Marc that we'd really like to keep him and sign him here," Murray said. "There's no other intent on our part, but I haven't heard back from his agent."