Person of Interest: Maple Leafs’ Andreas Johnsson

Maple Leafs prospect and Marlies top scorer Andreas Johnsson is all smiles after getting the call on an emergency basis to join the big club at practice.

The Toronto Maple Leafs called up a couple of players on emergency basis Tuesday, including Andreas Johnsson, who is often considered the team’s best prospect yet to make his NHL debut.

When Sportsnet’s Luke Fox asked Travis Dermott in mid-February which player on the Marlies could most easily make the jump to the NHL, the defenceman chose the 23-year-old Swede.

“That’s a guy who could easily transfer into the NHL. He’s got the elite speed, elite hands, elite mind for the game. If he got thrown into a couple NHL games,” Dermott said in a recent Quick Shifts article, “he’d excel if not do just fine.”

Johnsson will play his first game for the Leafs on Wednesday night at home against the Dallas Stars and in practice on Tuesday he was skating on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Kasperi Kapanen.

A skilled speedster with seemingly huge upside, Johnsson was selected with the 10th-last pick in the entire 2013 NHL Draft. Since then, he’s shown excellent progression and is hoping to join the likes of countrymen Henrik Zetterberg and Patric Hornqvist as seventh-round picks that turned out to be hidden gems.

Here’s what you need to know about Andreas Johnsson.

Age: 23
From: Gavle, Sweden
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 190 pounds
Position: Left wing
Shoots: Left
Drafted: 202nd overall by Maple Leafs in 2013
Contract status: Last season of entry-level contract. Set to be RFA this summer.

A DECORATED PLAYER IN SWEDEN’S TOP LEAGUE

Even though he was a seventh-round pick in the NHL draft, Johnsson left the SHL very accomplished for such a young player.

In his first year in the league, right after being drafted, Johnsson scored 15 goals and 24 points in 44 games and was named the league’s rookie of the year. He was the top-scoring junior-aged player in the SHL that season, finishing three points ahead of Alexander Wennberg (in six fewer games), a player who was taken 14th overall in the same NHL draft as Johnsson and posted 59 points in the NHL last season.

William Nylander, who was picked eighth overall by Toronto the year after Johnsson was drafted, scored seven points in 22 SHL games in 2013-14.

The following season, Johnsson took another step and was third in scoring on Frolunda, leading the team with 22 goals.

In 2015-16 at the age of 21, Johnsson finished tied for fifth in SHL scoring with 44 points in 52 games, seven points shy of the league leader, and again led his own team with 19 goals. That season, Johnsson’s Frolunda team won the league championship, though his scoring dropped off to just four points in 16 playoff games.

So how did a player selected so late in the NHL draft come on so suddenly and significantly in Sweden’s top league, blossoming into one of Toronto’s best prospects? Prior to his draft year, the knock on Johnsson had to do with his ability to keep up to game speed and that he lacked the drive seen in other players. But as it turned out, Johnsson had a case of undiagnosed asthma which, after proper medication, became less of an impediment. Once it was addressed, Johnsson exploded as a top-line producer.

HE GOT A CONCUSSION IN HIS SECOND NORTH AMERICAN GAME

Following his Swedish League championship, Johnsson left Frolunda and joined the AHL’s Toronto Marlies for his first taste of North American action, which also happened to come in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He went pointless but earned two shots in his first game, and was on the receiving end of a devastating check in Game 2.

Johnsson was diagnosed with a concussion after this play and his 2015-16 season ended on that note.

His season started on time in 2016-17 after a full recovery, and in his first game of regular season action Johnsson scored two goals against the Utica Comets.

HIS RISE AS AN AHL STAR

Johnsson scored three times in his first two regular season AHL games but, like any goal scorer, his production came in fits and starts. After scoring his third goal on Oct. 16, 2016, he didn’t score again until Nov. 29. That 15-game goalless drought was the longest he’s experienced in two AHL seasons, though he had two more goalless streaks of eight and nine games toward the end of 2016-17.

His 20 goals as a first-year AHLer ranked second on the team and his 47 points in 75 games were third. But he didn’t fully arrive as a star in the league until this season.

The longest Johnsson has gone without a goal in 2017-18 is just four games and he’s the leading goal scorer (26) and point-getter (54) for the first-place Marlies in 54 games played. He was named to the all-star game and scored two points.

He is the highest-scoring under-24 player in the AHL over the past two seasons.

WHAT’S HIS WEAKNESS?

There is a lot to like in Johnsson’s game. He brings speed, all sorts of scoring upside and spoke about the strengths in his game at Tuesday morning’s skate.

“Trying to be as intense as I can,” he said. “I’d rather shoot before I pass … fast.”

Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock acknowledged the great season Johnsson is having in the AHL and that the team didn’t have the room to give him a shot in the NHL lineup. But now he’s here, leap-frogging opportunities for Matt Martin, who has lost his full-time lineup spot, and Josh Leivo, who has spent the past two seasons with the NHL team, but has only gotten into 28 games.

With so much optimism around Johnsson’s game and the label of “best Leafs prospect not yet in the NHL,” what potential negative is there to his game?

As Johnsson mentioned, he likes to bring some intensity to his game, which on its face isn’t a bad thing for an NHL hopeful to have. But sometimes that style can cross the line and it’s led to too many penalties for the skilled player. He has 53 PIMs in 54 games this season, the third-most on the Marlies.

IT’S JOHNSSON, NOT JOHNSON

When he first came to North America for a Marlies playoff run in 2016, it turns out just about everyone was spelling his name wrong. Even the nameplate on his new jersey had “Johnson” on it, but it wasn’t until the following fall that he corrected everyone to add an extra ‘s’ in there.

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