Toronto Maple Leafs: Andreas Johnsson’s Rookie Campaign

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 14: Andreas Johnsson leaves the ice after warm up before the Leafs face the Dallas Stars at the Air Canada Centre on March 14, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 14: Andreas Johnsson leaves the ice after warm up before the Leafs face the Dallas Stars at the Air Canada Centre on March 14, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Following Andreas Johnsson’s injury scare last week, it seems Toronto Maple Leafs fans have found an entirely new appreciation for a player who could arguably be the team’s best-left winger.

The stroke of luck that prevented Johnsson from being seriously injured from a knee on knee collision against the Golden Knights was perhaps briefly outshined by Tyler Ennis’ success since returning from his own injury - a broken ankle he suffered in a game against the New York Rangers in December.

Certainly, Ennis has been able to reinvigorate the fourth line.

However, if you’ve looked at the NHL rookie leaderboard lately, you’d quickly find out that the return of a depth winger isn’t the biggest or most surprising success story on the Toronto Maple Leafs: Andreas Johnsson’s explosive rookie season.

That’s right, Johnsson is a rookie, although he may not look like it playing on the wing of Auston Matthews and the first line. Perhaps due to the quantity and quality of the rookies passing through the Toronto organization in recent years, Johnsson’s impressive start has been wildly under-hyped.

The Past

Johnsson began his career as the Rookie of the Year in the Swedish Hockey League in 2014, and continued this pattern of excellence in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies, where he was named an All-Star in 2018. In what would become the Marlies’ first-ever Calder Cup-winning campaign, Johnsson was among the team leaders with an impressive 26 goals and 54 points in 54 games played. He finished the regular season just one goal and three points short of achieving first place on the Marlies’ roster despite playing 19 fewer games than top scorer Ben Smith.

Johnsson missed the beginning of the playoffs as a call up with the Leafs, but led his team in scoring in the 16 games he spent with the Marlies during their championship run, with 10 goals and 24 points.

This impressive effort earned him the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy for Most Valuable Player of the playoffs.

The Present

Starting this season with the Leafs and a resume like his, you would maybe have expected a little more hype surrounding the 24-year old Swede. His success has been quiet, but his numbers speak for themselves.

To compare him to the luminary rookie class of 2016-17, Johnsson’s 19 goals and 36 points in 56 games played is better than Connor Brown’s 27 points at the same point of comparison, and better than Zach Hyman’s 24. In fact, Johnsson sits only four points behind the pace a rookie William Nylander set by 56 games in 2016-17.

Johnsson has quickly become a favourite of coach Mike Babcock’s to place on the wing of Auston Matthews, who has completed a dynamic trio of speed, shots, and stick-handling ability with Kasperi Kapanen. He added two goals to his steadily growing rookie campaign last night against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Future

Thankfully, both Andreas Johnsson’s and Kasperi Kapanen’s careers in Toronto survived the madness of the trade deadline, but its imperative to the Leafs’ long-term success that both players remain as Toronto Maple Leafs.

After difficulty arranging an effective first line centred by Auston Matthews after his return from injury earlier this season, Babcock seems to have found success with this latest trio. Kasperi Kapanen’s speed is an asset worth keeping, particularly for a team that rests so much on offensive dominance and so heavily favours the stretch pass.

However, it is Andreas Johnsson who has the potential to be a game-changer for the Leafs going into the postseason. His soft hands and hard shot are certain characteristics of his game that are valuable, but it is his willingness and ability to play a gritty, physical game that is most desperately needed by this team in a playoff situation.

While Toronto may be sleeping on Andreas Johnsson, the rest of the NHL may not. Sitting at third in rookie scoring behind the likes of Elias Pettersson and Rasmus Dahlin is not a bad place to be. It may not be Calder Trophy material (although, never say never, there’s a lot of season left before nominees are revealed), it’s certainly an impressive start for another product of the Toronto organization.

Hopefully, its an omen for continued success in Toronto for years to come.

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