There's an argument to be made that the Leafs two best prospects are Swedish, and one of them has yet to make it across the Atlantic.
Seldom do seventh rounders play their way into the conversation as your organization's best young talent, but that's exactly what Andreas Johnson has done.
Taken 202nd pick in 2013 NHL Draft, the forward with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) has since gone on a tear, winning the SHL's rookie of the year award in 2014 before taking the league by storm this year.
In a league dominated by veterans and former NHLers, Johnson, 20, was among its most dynamic players and scorers in 2014-2015.
Highlighted by an exceptional performance in the inaugural Champions Hockey League tournament, which brings together Europe's best squads (excluding the KHL), Johnson helped carry Frolunda to a loss in the finals with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 12 games. This feat was good enough for first in points per game for the tournament, and second in scoring, in large part because he missed a game due to an illness.
And while production exceeding two points per game is unsustainable, particularly against strong SHL teams (Johnson preyed on teams from other leagues such as the Briancon Diables Rouges of France), his performance, relative to his teammates, is nonetheless astounding.
In the SHL, Johnson's success was equally impressive. His 35 points (22 goals, 13 assists) in 55 SHL games was good enough for third in U24 scoring but it also made him the league's highest-scoring U21 forward.
This, in a league that boasts talents like Jakub Vrana (1st round, Washington), Lukas Wallmark (4th round, Carolina), Adrian Kempe (1st round, Los Angeles), and teammate Artturi Lehkonen (2nd round, Montreal), none of whom were close to matching his production.
Johnson, an incredibly gifted shooter, has an unbelievable knack for finding open space. Because of this, he consistently gives himself time when he receives a pass to either set up and pick his spot in the net, or unload a heavy (and I mean, *heavy*) and accurate one-timer.
This uncanny ability makes him incredibly fun to watch and allows him to get several quality chances a game. Johnson finished third in the league in shots in the regular season with 153.
Watch this chance off the rush and note the separation Johnson gives himself from defenders, allowing him to pull the puck to his backhand and get it on net for the assists.
And, again, note how Johnson skates backwards, away from the pass, in this sequence, to separate himself from the defenders in the slot and allow him the time and space to turn and pick his spot short-side high.
He's always open.
Beyond the incredible release, and the elusiveness that allows him to use it, Johnson is also an excellent skater, and a pursues the puck relentlessly.
While undersized, Johnson's ability as a shooter and puck carrier (he's got slick hands and a fluid, crisp stride) make a dynamic, shot-first scorer. What he's done, at the age of 18, 19 and 20 in the SHL, has been impressive, and there's little that suggest it won't translate to North America, particularly considering how young he still is.
But there's confusion over when and how he'll come to North America. Whenever I watch and tweet about a Frolunda game, I'm bombarded with questions over whether Johnson will join the Leafs organization next season.
The answer, quite frankly, is unclear as he still has another year on his contract.
And while he could opt out of that year, there's no guarantee he makes the jump, despite being ready and the Leafs having expressed interest in him doing so. At the beginning of the year, Johnson expressed in interviews that he felt he still had much to prove following his rookie of the year season, and remained noncommittal as to whether he would leave.
After a brutal knee injury in the opening round of the SHL playoffs, if Frolunda is eliminated (their second round series is currently tied 1-1), he may very well wish to return, and try and help lead what will surely be another strong team to the championship.
Check out the knee-on-knee collision.
I can confirm Johnson will return to action for Game 3 against the Vaxjo Lakers, having missed five games with the knee injury.
Despite the setback, Johnson's talent gives him the opportunity to be an impact player at the next level. And whether Johnson joins the team in 2015 or in 2016, he may not need as long to develop as some might envision.
Don't be surprised if he turns into an effective top-six winger and the best NHL scorer the Leafs have beyond Nylander.
As always, if you have any questions about Johnson, leave them in the comments or tweet me @scottcwheeler.
For some other Johnson highlights, here are some tweets with links.
Here’s a GIF of Andreas Johnson’s shootout winner following the game tying goal: https://t.co/PcgP7a14rp— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) March 1, 2015
Andreas Johnson’s goal (cannon) from today can be found at 1:30 of the video here: http://t.co/dSTI7BjF5p— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) November 27, 2014
The highlights from Johnson’s game with Frolunda are here (goal at 0:20, assist at 1:00): http://t.co/YF4nY4AR59— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) November 12, 2014
All of Johnson’s points from yesterday can be found at 0:50, 1:10, 1:30, 1:45 (G), 2:00 (G) and 2:15 here (video): http://t.co/haXijXETXF— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) August 24, 2014
Johnson's three assists can be found at 2:30, 3:10 and 4:20 of the following video: http://t.co/dpuOSLtvST— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) August 22, 2014