Toronto Maple Leafs forward Andreas Johnsson is currently producing a breakout performance in his first full season in the NHL. Johnsson has played on each of the Maple Leafs’ lines this season and has had fairly consistent success. He currently has 20 goals and 20 assists for 40 points in 64 games played this season. Needless to say, he has drastically outperformed his seventh round draft selection expectations.
He was drafted 202nd overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Far from a sure-thing prospect, he spent three more seasons playing in Sweden before arriving with the AHL Toronto Marlies for their playoff run in 2016. He then continued to play with the Marlies, putting up 47 points in 75 games in 2016-17. However, it was the next season where Johnsson truly established himself as one of the Maple Leafs’ most promising prospects. In 54 games with the Marlies, he had 54 points and erupted for 24 additional points in the Marlies’ 16 playoff games.
Johnsson Goes From a Long Shot to a Sure Thing
No one has high expectations when players are drafted in the seventh round. Virtually every player in the later rounds is a low-risk selection, and Johnsson was no exception. A lot of factors can go into a player’s draft position if they happen to fall in the draft. Many players will not be high profile enough to have their health and injuries known by every NHL team, and that can affect the player on draft day.
Johnsson was one of those players. While not known at the time, he had an undiagnosed respiratory issue when he was drafted. As reported by Paul Hendrick of NHL.com, Johnsson was treated for asthma that summer and, as a result, he played much better afterwards.
So that helps to explain his draft position, but he is now performing better than anyone could have hoped. His game is a mixture of speed and skill, two necessary components to succeed in today’s younger and faster NHL. He has continued to impress head coach Mike Babcock, prompting his promotion to the top-six of the Maple Leafs’ lineup. As a complete seventh round long-shot, Johnsson has become a legitimate NHL first or second liner and a no doubt sure thing. Just how much he is able to achieve is up to him.
Finding the Right Spot for Johnsson Going Forward
It is a great asset to have a player like Johnsson who can be placed anywhere in the Maple Leafs’ lineup and excel. This has been evident of his performance this season as he has spent time on all four of the Maple Leafs’ lines. However, it is also a good idea to find where that player can produce the most. The Maple Leafs have very likely found that spot for Johnsson as he continues to play on the left of Auston Matthews.
Matthews made it quite evident how impressive he thought Johnsson’s game was after their first game as a unit. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported that Matthews said “He makes such quick plays, he thinks extremely fast and it’s like he’s got those fast-twitch muscles. He responds extremely well, his hands and feet and everything. It just seems like he’s moving 100 miles an hour.”
Needless to say, Matthews is a fan of Johnsson being on his line. While Babcock has been known to tinker with his lineup, this is one pairing that needs to remain intact. Johnsson has become the Maple Leafs’ best left winger by far as Patrick Marleau appears to have lost some of the pop that made him such a dangerous player. Add in the fact that Zach Hyman has found a suitable spot alongside John Tavares and you have a clear pairing of Johnsson and Matthews. Consider the fact that Babcock has also reunited Matthews with long-time partner William Nylander and you have the makings of a line with a ton of offensive power.
Johnsson and Nylander have a lot in common. They are both play-making wingers who can also put the puck in the net themselves. Now that they are both on the same line as Matthews, there will surely be plenty of chances to set up the all-star centre. Until given a strong reason otherwise, Babcock has no reason to split up this line. Their chemistry will only continue to grow and they have the chance to challenge for the spot of the Maple Leafs’ best line.
Johnsson Could Join Elite Company
Johnsson is not the first player drafted in a late round to exceed expectations. Barring some severe regression on his part, he could join some pretty elite company. Other top current NHL players who were drafted in the later rounds of their respective drafts include the recently traded Mark Stone, “Big Buff” Dustin Byfuglien and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski. Each of these players have proven that their draft position would not hold them back, and they have all ascended to the top of the NHL. If he continues his pace, Johnsson could very easily find his name mentioned in the same conversation as these other top players in the near future.
The elite company does not have to end with current players, as there are many players throughout history who have grown to legendary status in the NHL despite being picked late in their drafts. These players include Stanley Cup champion Luc Robitaille, Doug Gilmour, Daniel Alfredsson and two-time Stanley Cup champion and three-time Selke winner Pavel Datsyuk. Unsurprisingly, most of these players can be found on Sportsnet’s Jeff Simmons’ list of the biggest draft steals of all-time. To be considered one of the best draft steals of all-time, you have to be special, and without question all of these players were very special.
Johnsson appears set to have a long and prosperous career. While it is far too early to begin talking about what his legacy might be at the end of his career, it is worth noting that he has all the tools to find himself listed with the legends featured above.