It’s been a little more two and a half years since what many would consider the saddest moment in Ottawa Senators history. Erik Karlsson was traded to the San Jose Sharks for a package including Chris Tierney, Dylan DeMelo, Josh Norris, Rūdolfs Balcers and picks. While considered one of the less important pieces of the trade at the time, it’s Josh Norris who has become the trade’s biggest return so far.
By Zach Mulder
40 games into his rookie season, Josh Norris is exceeding every expectation set before him. He has 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points, scoring at just over a half a point per game pace. This is fantastic for a rookie on a team near the bottom of the league and good enough for third best amongst all rookies this year. But it’s not just his scoring that makes Norris such a compelling player, it’s his composure and well-rounded play that sets him apart.
Norris has slotted into the lineup as the team’s first line center, positioned between Brady Tkachuk and Nick Paul. Their line has drawn tough matchups night in and night out regardless of opponent. With this level of defensive responsibility it would be understandable if Norris had a hard time finding his footing. We’ve seen exactly this with another Sens rookie in Tim Stützle, but that hasn’t been the case for Norris. He is third amongst Sens forwards in hockey reference’s defensive point shares, a metric that attempts to quantify the impact of a player’s defense on the team’s overall points.
Norris has also shown a willingness to lay his body on the line, something that goes a long way towards ingratiating himself with a Sens fan base that has always loved their grinders. If you’re willing to play your heart out and do the things that aren’t as flashy as scoring points, the Sens Sickos will embrace you. Norris has done very well in this regard during his rookie season. He’s fifth among Sens forwards in hits,and hasn’t been afraid to battle down low or along the boards. Norris is also seventh among forwards in blocked shots with 20, but is only four blocks back of second.
Another area where rookies generally struggle yet Norris has excelled is the face-off circle. Norris leads the Sens in face-off percentage with 53.7, and is one of only three Ottawa players over 50 percent. This means Norris is D.J. Smith’s best bet when he needs an important face-off win. That’s not something you can say about most rookies in the NHL. Even superstars such as McDavid, Mackinnon and Stamkos struggled with face-offs as rookies, all being significantly under 50 percent.
It’s still too early in Norris’ career to call him a star. After all, he only has 44 career games played at this point. But the signs are all there that he is well on his way to developing into one. Along with the Sens’ other young players, Norris is part of a core that Ottawa fans believe can eventually bring them back to the heights they reached with Karlsson, and hopefully beyond.
There will likely never be a day that the Karlsson Trade isn’t remembered with at least some level of sadness, regardless of how the transaction turned out. He was one of the most beloved players to wear a Sens uniform and he loved the fans and city right back. But just maybe, Josh Norris and his future can take away some of the lingering pain. After all the Sens have one heck of a good player on their hands, and he’s just getting started.