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Knights center has simple goal: ‘Just be better than last year’

William Karlsson’s goal for the upcoming season is a simple one.

“Just be better than last year,” he said.

The center’s fifth campaign with the Golden Knights was his most difficult. He broke his foot in October. His 12 goals and 35 points were his fewest since being picked in the 2017 expansion draft.

He admitted after the season that his confidence wasn’t where he wanted it to be. A new year provides Karlsson a fresh start. It also looks like it will give him a new role.

Coach Bruce Cassidy has put Karlsson on the third line in training camp with left wing Brett Howden and right wing Michael Amadio.

That change might mean the Knights need different things from Karlsson this season. But Cassidy still knows his importance to the team.

“(Karlsson’s) been great,” Cassidy said. “He’s done whatever’s asked of him. He’s one of the elite 200-foot players in the league.”

Karlsson spent his first five seasons with the Knights as a top-six fixture.

He formed one-third of the team’s famous “Misfit line” with left wing Jonathan Marchessault and right wing Reilly Smith. The three have played together since the Knights’ first year. Cassidy started camp with them on three separate lines to see how they would fare apart.

Karlsson was the one moved to the bottom six, where generating offense isn’t always the main goal. Cassidy said he’d like to use the third and fourth lines to match up against top players on opposing teams.

He also wants Karlsson, Howden and Amadio to play simply at times even though they’re all skilled. The hope is that when the Knights are getting pinned in their own end, that group can be used to get the game flowing in the other direction.

“You need lines to get you back on the rails,” Cassidy said. “That’s how I’d like to use that line.”

That does play to many of Karlsson’s strengths.

He has the speed to chip pucks into the offensive zone and chase after them. He can be trusted to take important faceoffs. He’s a smart defensive player who’s rarely out of place.

“He’s an easy guy to play with,” Howden said. “When something goes wrong, he’s always there to bail you out.”

Starting on the third line will likely afford Karlsson fewer offensive opportunities, however. Taking important defensive-zone draws means he starts his shift far away from the opposing net. The ones in the offensive zone will go more often to the top two lines centered by Jack Eichel and Chandler Stephenson.

Cassidy didn’t rule out Karlsson moving back up the pecking order at some point. He’s still going to get power-play time, and if he starts producing, he could force his way higher in the lineup.

Karlsson showed in Tuesday’s preseason game against Arizona that he can score no matter where he’s playing. He took a feed from Amadio and beat Coyotes goaltender Jonas Johansson from the bottom of the right circle with a sharp wrist with 1:58 remaining.

The goal won the game for the Knights. It was Karlsson at his best. If he keeps making plays like that when the season starts, he’ll have a good chance of achieving his goal for the year.

“I’m sure there’s things to improve, but I feel pretty good right now about where my game’s at,” Karlsson said.

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BenSGotz on Twitter.

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