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Could Norris winner Karlsson average 30 minutes per game?

Feb 7, 2013, 9:50 AM EDT

Erik Karlsson #65 of the Ottowa Senators reacts after being called for a two-minute penalty for elbowing Zac Dalpe #22 of the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period at PNC Arena on February 1, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
(January 31, 2013 - Source: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America) Getty Images

The Ottawa Senators have no problem leaning heavily on 22-year-old Erik Karlsson — and why should they? Karlsson captured the Norris Trophy last season and is widely regarded as one of the best offensive defensemen in the league.

Still, could they really use him in roughly half of every game?

Karlsson has averaged 28:17 minutes per contest this season and he’s logged over 30 minutes in each of his last two games. That’s an unreal amount of work, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“(The media) keeps better track of that than I do,” Karlsson said in an Ottawa Citizen report.

“I feel great. It feels like I can play more if I want. As long as my body feels good, I don’t have any issues. We’re 10 games in and there are still 38 to go and more than that, hopefully (with the playoffs). You’ve just got to try and take care of your body every day and stay in shape.”

Karlsson took Wednesday’s practice off to give him some time off the ice, but when it comes to games, Senators coach Paul MacLean primarily lets Karlsson play as much as he wants to.

“I guess there is (a risk) with the compacted schedule, but he’s a pretty young guy,” MacLean said.

“There’s always a risk, whether you’re playing 15 (minutes) or 20 or 25 or 30, but he has the capability of handling the 30 minutes. A lot of times, the game, and how the team is playing, dictates it. Right now, we feel he’s at a level that he can keep playing. His fitness level is a big part of it.”

38-year-old defenseman Sergei Gonchar‘s (flu) return might cut into Karlsson’s playing time, but Karlsson logged over 29 minutes in the last contest Gonchar participated in.

No player has averaged more than 30 minutes a season since Chris Pronger did it in 1999-2000. Due to his efforts, Pronger joined Bobby Orr as one of the only two players to ever win the Norris and Hart Trophies in a single season.

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