When Craig Button of TSN published his list of top non-NHL prospect the other day, he got Andreas Johnsson’s age wrong. He’s listed at 21 in the Toronto section of the list. Johnsson is actually 23, and he turns 24 this year.
It got me thinking about how we rate prospects and how much or how little we take age into account. We all wrestle with this when do the Top 25 Under 25 lists. And not everyone approaches the thorny problem of comparing teenagers to young men with years more hockey experience, often pro experience, in the same way. We also have to compare players across leagues, which is tricky.
Some of the first things I ever wrote for PPP were analysis of Andreas Johnsson’s stats in the SHL. I thought he was obviously good in that league, doing well at a young age, and holding a decent roster spot on a top team, but I didn’t think he was dominating the SHL the way a truly exceptional player does. When Johnsson was 19, he scored at the rate of 0.55 points per game. Elias Pettersson, who leads Button’s list this year, is 19 and scoring at a rate of 1.29 points per game in his first SHL season.
As Johnsson moved into his next two seasons he jumped up in scoring but then he leveled off in his third year. Take a look:
Shooting and Scoring Progression
|Age 19 SHL||44||15||9||93||0.55||2.11|
|Age 20 SHL||55||22||13||153||0.64||2.78|
|Age 21 SHL||52||19||25||105||0.85||2.02|
|Age 22 AHL||75||20||27||138||0.63||1.84|
|Age 23 AHL||41||22||15||95||0.90||2.32|
First, to be clear, this is essentially garbage quality data to assess someone with, and you should not take it as definitive. All that is available in the AHL is shots on goal in all situations, so I used that from all leagues for consistency. A more robust measure of rated shots as well as shooting by game state can be had from the SHL numbers, but once you get to AHL data, you lose time on ice and splits by game state.
At the time, I did a deeper analysis of Johnsson’s last two years in the SHL , and together they showed a player on the same line on a top team, playing the same role and having about the same results. I said in the wrap up for his last year’s regular season that he needed a really good playoffs. He didn’t have one; he was terrible, and his ice time dwindled to nothing.
His career seemed to be stalled. And no one was particularly disappointed because Johnsson was a seventh-round pick, the ultimate long shot. He came to the AHL, and the expectation should be that a player doing well enough in the SHL to hold down a scoring line roster spot on a good team at 20 should be even better in the AHL at 22. Usually. All players are unique, and there are some skillsets that simply don’t cross the ocean.
Instead, what Johnsson looked like last year, particularly in the first half of the season, was a player who had taken a step back. As you can see, even with his better second half of the season helping his stats, he shot at a lower rate than he had back home, and he scored at a much, much lower rate. Johnsson had been used extensively on the top power play unit in the SHL, so that factors in to the points drop, as well.
However, watching him play through the playoffs last year and right out of camp this year, he clearly started to progress. This was starting to show in February of 2017, not just in hindsight. This season, he was rightly the Marlies All-Star representative, and he leads the team in points and goals.
His shots on goal rate is much higher this year, as well, and it is closer to what you need to see for an NHL level player. My criticism of Seth Griffith, who puts up points in the AHL like Johnsson does, is that he never shot at an elite rate. That might still be the thing holding Johnsson back, even though his game has grown immensely, it might not be enough as he still lags behind Nikita Soshnikov and Kasperi Kapanen for shot rate.
Why did he plateau, though? The coach of Frölunda, Johnsson’s old team and Carl Grundström’s current one, is very highly regarded. I don’t think a credible case can be made that Sheldon Keefe is just better. But the AHL, particularly in Toronto, is NHL adjacent. The dream looks more real, and for the Marlies it’s on the next practice sheet over every day. The primary role of an AHL team is to launch players into the NHL, and a winning environment is second. Johnsson is being played to maximize that growth.
Frölunda’s goal is to win the SHL championship. And their usage of Johnsson didn’t change as he got older because what they were doing was working. He was a power play net-front tip artist, and a secondary scoring winger on the second line. It got them lots of goals, and they were happy.
The development value of a European men’s league is a two-edged sword. For players good enough to play there at 18 or 19, they get much, much tougher competition and dramatically smarter teammates to play with. They learn more than they will in any country’s junior league. But when a player isn’t elite, just very good for a 21 year old, then what are they? A project to develop, or a guy on a roster somewhere playing a role?
Yegor Korshkov was good enough to hit the KHL very young, and they do that less than the Swedes do. This year, with many more teams to fill, the KHL have 10 players 19 or under who have played at least 10 games. Only one of them is any good: Eeli Tolvanen.
In the SHL, they have 27 players under 19, and while only one is s star, Rasmus Dahlin, several are at least credible roster players. When you move up to 19 year olds, there are more in both leagues, but the SHL has many more playing meaningful ice time.
Korshkov made the KHL at 18. And he wasn’t very good in his first year, playing 24 games, but he improved. At first. Here he is:
Shooting and Scoring Rates
|Age 19 KHL||41||6||6||43||0.29||1.05|
|Age 20 KHL||36||6||16||67||0.61||1.86|
|Age 21 KHL||51||8||17||95||0.49||1.86|
You don’t get any more stuck on a shot rate than the identical one two years running. So, if we allow that the KHL is a harder league with better goalies, and I think it’s fair to say that Korshkov gets less power play time, although that’s a guess, his lower points aren’t concerning, but that’s not the level of shooting he needs to have to make you think he’ll be an NHL player someday.
Much like Johnsson, he’s playing on a good team (maybe not a top-rated one who will win it all, however) and he’s playing exactly the same role at 21 he had at 20. He really looks like he has stagnated, but then so had Johnsson.
Korshkov is not a late round pick, he is a second round pick and one that came when Alex DeBrincat was still on the board. Just by not being a star in the KHL like Tolvanen, he disappoints, but should he be expected to be a star? Likely not.
As for his future, that’s uncertain. His contract with Lokomotiv expires this April 30, and he didn’t re-sign last year until August, which is very late. The Russian national team program seems to like him, and he shows up on their development squad a lot, but will Lokomotiv give him a bigger role? Has he earned it? This is all very hard to predict. They will do what will win them the most games, in the end.
It’s hard not to look at Johnsson’s career on the Marlies and think that it might be time for Korshkov to do the same thing and come over. His playoffs this year will be over before the end of April, so the possibility exists for him to come on a try-out deal, although the U25 team might be who Russia chooses to send to the World Championships, and he’d likely be on it. At the very least, it’s time Korshkov spent a summer in Toronto.