Switch to center suits Golden Knights’ William Karlsson

William Karlsson scored six goals in 81 games last season for Columbus. He needed 16 games with the Golden Knights to match that total.

Karlsson was the No. 1 star in Friday’s 5-2 win over Winnipeg at T-Mobile Arena with two goals, and the 24-year-old has produced at almost a point-per-game rate since his move to center three weeks ago.

“When I came here first, I knew there was an opportunity and I really wanted to take the chance,” Karlsson said Saturday at City National Arena. “Right now, I’m playing top-six minutes and … it’s up to me to keep it going and keep playing well.”

Karlsson opened the season playing on the wing with center Erik Haula and wing Brendan Leipsic, but went scoreless in four games.

When Haula was put on the injured-reserve list Oct. 14, Knights coach Gerard Gallant moved Karlsson to a line with center Oscar Lindberg and wing Reilly Smith.

Karlsson netted the overtime winner against St. Louis on Oct. 21. At practice the next morning, Gallant put Karlsson at center with Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, who was returning from injury.

“I’ve been a center my whole life, so obviously I know without thinking where I’m going to be,” Karlsson said. “When I was at the wing, sometimes I had to take an extra second just to see where I’m at and know what to do. Even though I think I got better the more games I played on the wing, of course I feel more comfortable up the middle.”

Karlsson has eight points (five goals, three assists) in nine games since his move to the pivot, and shows 6-6-12 overall. He needs three goals to match his career high of nine, set in 2015-16 with the Blue Jackets.

“Since he went to the center position, he’s played a lot better,” Gallant said after Friday’s game. “He’s done a good job, and he can play both center and wing. We like him at center now with the two guys he’s playing with. That line’s been real good.”

Compliments all around

Winnipeg is the latest visiting team to come away impressed with the Knights and the atmosphere at T-Mobile.

“This is a pretty hard building to play in, to be honest,” said Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who was pulled at the end of the second period after allowing five goals on 22 shots.

The Jets had been one of the hottest teams in the NHL with points in eight straight games (5-0-3) before Friday, but struggled against the Knights’ quickness.

“We just couldn’t get out of our zone,” Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler said. “Even when we got over the red line, we were chipping it right to their guys. … We are going to have to make some adjustments next time we play them (Dec. 1 in Winnipeg).”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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