The Toronto Marlies may not be playing good hockey in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, but the team’s two Swedes are.
After his first full season in North America, Andreas Johnsson has settled in as the Marlies best pure scorer in these playoffs.
And after leaving Sweden to join the Marlies a little less than a month ago, Carl Grundstrom already knows his role. It’s a different role, one designed to support the puck and the Marlies’ other top scorer, Kasperi Kapanen.
Three days after picking up a goal and an assist in his American Hockey League debut, Grundstrom was slotted alongside two of the Marlies’ four leading scorers, playing on the left wing with Kapanen and Cal O’Reilly.
He wasn’t out there to make plays though – that’s Kapanen’s job. Instead, he got himself engaged physically from the onset, finishing a pair of checks before getting into a shoving match at the Marlies bench on his first shift.
“Carl’s an amazing player,” Kapanen said of Grundstrom. “It’s always tough coming from Europe to play here because it’s a different kind of game but he’s been playing well.”
Meanwhile, Johnsson was Johnsson, scoring for the third straight game – twice. The first was a give-and-go with Kapanen on the powerplay, when he dashed through the slot to redirect a hard pass past Mike McKenna. The second was off of a drop-pass at the top of the circle, redirected by a stick and in. They were Johnsson’s fourth and fifth goals of the playoffs. In the third, he nearly potted the hat trick on another pass from Kapanen.
Together, he and Grundstrom were two of the Marlies’ most effective players.
There has been talk, since the Leafs chose Grundstrom 57th overall, that he’d become a physical pest.
But despite an up-tempo, in-your-face style, Grundstrom isn’t a pure pest. At least not in the North American-hockey sense. He doesn’t take penalties, and had just three minors in Sweden before joining the Marlies for their playoff run.
“I think it’s fun to jab with their guys but you have to keep it at a level where you don’t take penalties,” Grundstrom said of his mentality.
But he’s actually more of a scorer.
“I try to shoot as much as possible to create scoring chances,” he added.
In 45 games with Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League this season, Grundstrom registered 20 points before cooling off for just a pair in 14 playoff games. The 6-0, 194-pound winger’s 14 goals placed him 24th in the SHL in scoring, despite averaging just 13:37 in time on ice.
This isn’t the first time Grundstrom has played competitively in North America since his selection last June though. He picked up seven points (three goals, four assists) in seven games with Sweden’s bronze medal-winning contingent at this year’s World Juniors, where he served as an assistant captain and finished tied for third in team scoring.
His shifts were quick and he was usually the first man on his line off the ice. But he was effective.
In his first game on Ricoh Coliseum ice, Grundstrom was everywhere, dumping guys along the boards or getting dumped trying to finish a check. On the forecheck, he was nearly always the first man in, which says something when you’re on a line with Kapanen – one of the fastest players in the AHL.
“He’s adjusted well, he’s just a competitor and you put him in this environment, despite his youth, he’s just playing hockey,” Keefe said of Grundstrom’s early adjustments. “So far so good.”
In the first period, when the Marlies struggled out of the gate, Grundstrom was a presence.
Moved down to the third line with Griffith and Kalinin for parts of the second period due to a Kapanen PP shift, Grundstrom remained active.
With eight minutes left in the second period, he nearly scored off of a low-high pass from O’Reilly before picking up another chance in the high slot off of the rush from Kapanen moments later.
Used on the second powerplay unit, Grundstrom nearly scored on a cross-ice tap-in from Brett Finlday, too. After getting cross-checked, with no call, Grundstrom looked like he was going to lose his composure midway through the third before deciding against it and getting back hard on the back check.
Then, seconds after the Marlies tied the game 3-3 and with less than two minutes remaining, Grundstrom gave the Marlies their first lead of the series, finishing off a play in tight for his second goal and third point in two games.
And Johnsson even mixed in a last-minute fight, the first of his AHL career.
“Johnny’s been magnificent for us through this series and stuff like this happens in a series but I’m really surprised to see a Swede fight, that’s for sure,” Kapanen said, laughing.
“He’s a real good player and a real good goal scorer,” said Grundstrom of his Swedish compatriot, who was unavailable post-game after cutting his head in the fight. “He’s a great player for us.”
“He’s doing it all for us right now, he’s scoring goals and playing physical and doing what it takes to win and obviously it’s working so we have to feed off of his energy,” defenceman Andrew Nielsen echoed.
The Swedes finished with a trio of goals in Toronto’s 5-3 win, dragging the Marlies back into the series.
“Johnny just continues to do it for us, continues to contribute in all manners,” said Keefe of Johnsson, who he often speaks highly of. “Again, that just shows his competitiveness. I would presume he’s never been in a fight in his life but he’s in the game, he’s a competitor, and he’s real fun to watch.”