A concussion sidelined Andreas Johnsson to start his professional hockey career in North America. Now the 2013 seventh round pick (202nd overall) is taking on a key role in his first full season with the Toronto Marlies.
It was only a few months ago, in his second game with the Marlies, when Johnsson received a blindside hit to the head from Albany Devils forward Dan Kelly — who was suspended by the American Hockey League (AHL) for 10 games for the play.
Johnsson, who missed the remainder of the Marlies’ 2016 playoff run, has since recovered and returned to the lineup to start his first full season in North America after spending parts of four years in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL).
Playing on the Marlies’ top line with assistant captain Colin Smith and winger Kerby Rychel, Johnsson carried three goals in five games into Wednesday night’s game against the Providence Bruins.
While the transition has been smooth, there have been some adjustments.
“It has been a good first couple of games,” Johnsson said of his play this season. “I feel like I’m still adjusting and learning but I feel like I’m evolving.”
In North America forwards spend more time chasing the puck than in Sweden, according to Johnsson.
“There’s always something happening, you have to be able to think faster and play faster and do everything faster,” he added.
After a standout — but scoreless — performance in the Marlies’ 4-0 win against the Manitoba Moose on Tuesday, Johnsson continued to create chances on Wednesday.
Early in the first period, after receiving a pass on the left-wing boards, Johnsson split two oncoming checks — a play Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe described as a “scare” for him — from Bruins players Tommy Cross and Wayne Simpson before the pair of opposing teammates collided knee on knee, sending Simpson to the dressing room.
As the Marlies fell behind 2-0 early, it was Johnsson’s line that created the best chances in an attempt to climb back into the game.
Slowly, they did. After the Marlies tied the game at 2-2 with goals from Kasperi Kapanen and Tobias Lindberg, it was Johnsson who helped give Toronto its first lead. Late in the second period, after picking up a loose puck along the boards, Johnsson made a quick, tape-to-tape pass to find Smith in the slot, who fed an open Brendan Leipsic while the Bruins followed the puck, giving the Marlies a 3-2 lead.
The assist, Johnsson’s first of the his career with the Marlies, gave the high-scoring Swede his fourth point in his sixth game.
After nearly converting on two more chances (a one-timer that just missed the crossbar and a scramble in front where he was stopped by Providence goalie Daniel Vladar), Johnsson twice found defensemen Viktor Loov in the high slot late in the game to nearly give the Marlies another lead with the game tied 3-3.
Known as a shooter, it’s his playmaking that Johnsson believes has helped him grow as an offensive threat.
“I like to shoot a lot but sometimes you can get assists from shooting and sometimes from passing and last year I had more assists than goals because I’m working on passing more,” Johnsson said, though he doesn’t plan on changing his style too much. “If you look at my record I always score more goals.”
Last season, in his final season with Frolunda after an impressive three years in the SHL, including one that saw him win Rookie of the Year and another that saw him lead the Champions Hockey League in scoring, Johnsson registered 44 points (19 goals, 25 assists) in 52 games.
On Wednesday, the Marlies went on to win 4-3 in overtime off a goal from Andrew Nielsen to improve to 5-1 on the season. They have used Johnsson as much as they can in a scoring role, including a prominent position on the team’s top powerplay unit.
And he has impressed the coaching staff and Leafs management along the way.
“I think he has played really well,” Keefe said after the win. “He’s showing himself to be more comfortable each game.”
He knows the 5-10, 183-pound winger is capable of even more.
“He’s a guy who always feels he can do more offensively, he wants to do more offensively,” Keefe said. “He looks confident, he’s going to those (dangerous) areas — those are the things we were looking for after responding to such an injury (the concussion). It seems like he’s making the adjustment to the smaller ice surface.”
Moving forward, there might even room for Johnsson to become a force.
“I think he has played well and is showing a lot of positive signs to becoming an impact player for us and for the Leafs in the future,” Keefe finished.