Last week Ryan Hobart kicked off our “What Would You Do?” series looking at the Leafs who are bound for either restricted or unrestricted free agency next summer. First up was Josh Leivo, who most Leafs fans have become quite familiar with. This week we’re going down the road to the Ricoh and looking at one of the more promising Marlies, Andreas Johnsson.
Johnsson has been a part of the Leafs organization for the past four years. He was drafted back in 2013, in the seventh round, and immediately began showing promise beyond that of a typical seventh rounder. He was signed to his entry level contract the following summer, and was brought over to the Marlies after his Swedish League ended in 2016, and was promptly concussed. That certainly stalled the excitement around Johnsson, who was being considered a future top six forward up until then. The wave of high end prospects accumulated by the Leafs seemed to take eyes off of Andreas, and he quietly put up a 20 goal, 47 point season in his first full AHL season last year.
Johnsson still shows a lot of promise, but he is a smallish skilled winger in an organization with a number of smallish skilled wingers ahead of him on the depth chart. You can’t have too much of a good thing, but you also have to consider the future, and is Johnsson going to be a key contributor before his next contract and/or waivers eligibility? That’s where decisions need to be made.
The consensus of TLN panel was that you don’t let him walk for nothing, but there was some disagreement on whether he should be traded now or signed for another go with the Leafs.
Trade Him by Jon Steitzer
My argument for trading Andreas Johnsson is pretty basic. At this point he’s still an unknown at the NHL level, and everything we’ve seen from him over the past few seasons has shown that he has some potential to become a capable winger in the NHL. The catch here is that Johnsson isn’t as good as Marner, Nylander, van Riemsdyk, Kapanen, or Brown for starters.
It’s also very unlikely that he’s going to get a look ahead of Hyman, or Soshnikov, and Leivo is also still ahead of him on most depth charts. Throw in Marleau and Komarov and it looks like a log jam that is going to keep Johnsson from receiving regular icetime on the Leafs for at least a couple of years unless he’s just so amazing that he blows past at least 10 other wingers in the organization and grabs a spot on the second line. That’s hard to do.
So, with that in mind, I am very much in favour of trading Johnsson to a team that would love to have an affordable young winger who could potentially step in to an NHL roster spot in the near future, either as a piece of a larger deal that addresses one of the Leafs more significant needs than wing depth or simply move Johnsson in exchange for a younger prospect with similar upside that gives the Leafs will address the Leafs needs further on down the road. The term assessment management gets used and abused an awful lot when discussing hockey, but Johnsson is a case worth using it in. Moving him now (if he is seen to have value around the league) spares us rewriting all the “What will they do about Josh Leivo?” takes with Johnsson’s name on them.
I’d be lying if I said that his size and concussion history doesn’t also factor into this a little. And while I think that Johnsson could be someone who burns the Leafs by excelling somewhere else, you can’t be afraid to let the occasional Richard Panik walk out the door, you just should at least try to get a lottery ticket for them. When TLN ranked prospects a couple of weeks back, we had Johnsson as the team’s 8th best prospect (I personally had him the highest of the group at 6th), but despite seeing the value he could have in a Leafs uniform, I’m comfortable with the idea of moving him as piece that can help the Leafs get better now or moving him to acquire a prospect that the Leafs would have the luxury of more time with.
Sign Him by Scott Maxwell
Andreas Johnsson is one of the few surviving players from the Nonis regime, as he was a seventh round pick in the 2013 draft, and is probably the best player the Leafs picked in that draft, with the only other of the Leafs five picks left from that draft being first round pick Frederik Gauthier. While it might be a good idea to trade Johnsson now while his value is still high, there are a couple of factors that should be considered.
First, and most importantly, is that he’s waiver exempt this season. While that may not seem like a huge deal, it makes Johnsson a very valuable asset to the Leafs in this regard. With Rychel, Sparks, Leivo, Moore, Smith, and Fehr all needing waivers this season, having a player that the Leafs can easily send down to the Marlies is big for the organization. If the team wanted to package Rychel, Leivo, Fehr, and Smith, or something along that line, to help clear out this cluster of players on the bubble, they could do so while still having guys like Johnsson in the minors, who could be called up whenever an injury to the team requires it. It gives a bit more flexibility to the team’s roster. Also, Johnsson has, to this point, proven to be a good player. While he hasn’t played in the NHL yet, he’s impressed everywhere else. He was exceptional in SHL for three seasons, and had an excellent season in his first year in the AHL, with 47 points in 75 games. He’s also been solid in the preseason so far, playing alongside Rychel and Moore, so he certainly hasn’t made the Leafs feel like he isn’t ready. While I would rather trade Johnsson than lose him for nothing, I think it would be a smart idea for the Leafs to keep him around for at least this season, see what they got in him, and take advantage of his waiver ineligibility. If they don’t like him after that, then pull the trigger and get some assets for him, and make room for other prospects/players.
All things consider I (Jon) might have gone with too much of a hot take here. By no means should the Leafs be shopping Johnsson, and there is no rush to do so. Depth at any position is a luxury, and with time on their side the Leafs might as well see what them have.
On the other hand, if some team wants to make a deal that gives the Leafs something truly worthwhile and Johnsson has to be a part of it, he’s far from untouchable.