The Leafs have a number of tough decisions to make once Auston Matthews and assuming he signs, William Nylander, returns to the lineup. For some players, their return forces them out of the lineup but for Andreas Johnsson, the return of Matthews and Nylander could mean an opportunity he has rarely received in the past: a chance to play with a top-end center.
Johnsson has had a roller coaster last twelve months. After dominating the AHL last season, he was called up and played well on the Leafs fourth line. He then led the Marlies to a championship as the teams’ top scorer.
This season, Johnsson came into training camp as a player who was expected to not only make the team but also make an impact. Johnsson didn’t play up to expectations and as a result, became a healthy scratch. Since being dressed again, Johnsson has stepped up his game and looks like his usual self.
In this article, I will look into Andreas Johnsson as a potential breakout player for the 2018-2019 season.
Is Johnsson a top three LW on the Leafs?
For Johnsson, being considered a top-three left winger on the Leafs means that he has an opportunity to play with Auston Matthews, John Tavares or Nazem Kadri. When looking at the recent deployment of the LW’s, it suggests that Johnsson is a top-three left winger in the eyes of Mike Babcock. Since being a healthy scratch, Johnsson’s 5v5 ice time is consistently higher than Tyler Ennis’ and he has arguably been the best player on the Leafs third line.
In addition, Johnsson has a secure spot in the “hole” of the 1-3-1 on the second powerplay and is able to penalty kill if needed. Despite being waiver exempt, I don’t think Johnsson should be coming out of the lineup when the team is at full strength.
This past week I ran a poll asking who the best left-winger on the Leafs was and Zach Hyman won convincingly. At the moment, I think it’s quite close between Hyman, Johnsson, and Marleau due to how different their skill-sets are. If we redid this poll at the end of the season, I think the majority will answer Andreas Johnsson. Unlike his left-wing peers, Johnsson hasn’t had the luxury of playing with high-end centers and could explode offensively if given an opportunity, in a similar way Kasperi Kapanen has.
In your opinion, who is the Leafs best left-winger right now?
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) November 22, 2018
Andreas Johnsson vs Kasperi Kapanen
Kasperi Kapanen’s offensive production this season is a great example of what better teammates can do for a player. Despite a difference in age, Kapanen and Johnsson were brought into the NHL in similar ways; both dominating the AHL, spending a large amount of time on the fourth line then having their role expand from there.
While Kapanen is clearly the better player, looking at Johnsson and Kapanen’s deployment throughout their NHL careers could provide important insight to Johnsson’s potential as a top-nine forward.
Before this season, the majority of Kapanen’s 5v5 ice time was spent with bottom-six centers (not Kadri or Matthews). Only around 10% was spent with Auston Matthews or Nazem Kadri.
|Player 1||Player 2||Player 3||TOI|
|Kasperi Kapanen||Nazem Kadri||w/o Auston Matthews||42.5|
|Kasperi Kapanen||w/o Nazem Kadri||Auston Matthews||15.85|
|Kasperi Kapanen||w/o Nazem Kadri||w/o Auston Matthews||499.78|
In comparison, over Johnsson’s full NHL career he has also spent a small percentage of his 5v5 regular season ice time with top centers as well (also around 10 percent).
|Player 1||Player 2||Player 3||Player 4||TOI|
|Andreas Johnsson||John Tavares||w/o Auston Matthews||w/o Nazem Kadri||7.55|
|Andreas Johnsson||w/o John Tavares||Auston Matthews||w/o Nazem Kadri||6.23|
|Andreas Johnsson||w/o John Tavares||w/o Auston Matthews||Nazem Kadri||12.48|
|Andreas Johnsson||w/o John Tavares||w/o Auston Matthews||w/o Nazem Kadri||243.17|
This poses the question, how did these two wingers do when playing with bottom-six centers and how do they compare with each other? Below I compare Andreas Johnsson’s full NHL career vs Kasperi Kapanen’s career from 2015-2018 (excluding this season).
|Player||Season||GP||TOI||P/60||P1/60||ixGF/60||iSh%||TOI% QoT||TOI% QoC|
When the sample is so small, a big offensive night (like a first-period hat-trick) makes a big difference. For comparison, here is the data before Johnsson’s hat trick.
|Player||Season||GP||TOI||P/60||P1/60||ixGF/60||iSh%||TOI% QoT||TOI% QoC|
Whether you put more emphasis on the data before Johnsson’s hat trick game or after, the premise is the same: Kapanen and Johnsson produced at similar rates. Based on the primary point production rate, both players were the main drivers of offense on their respective lines. This makes sense as Kapanen spent most of his ice time, during this part of his career, with the Matt Martin’s and Dom Moore’s of the world. In comparison, Johnsson’s teammates have been a bit better.
Furthermore, Johnsson’s shooting percentage will probably drop from 15% but if he gets placed with better linemates he should see his shot volume rise along with his assist totals. All in all, Johnsson’s production thus far has been encouraging to say the least.
The eye test
Andreas Johnsson is an undersized winger who does a lot of different things well. It is well-documented that Johnsson has a scoring touch and breakaway speed. What isn’t talked about enough is Johnsson’s puck carrying ability, puck-winning skills, and hard-work without the puck. Here are some clips of Johnsson’s game.
Puck-carrying and creating passing options
The ability to “get-open” is an underrated skill in my opinion. Johnsson does such a good job putting himself in positions to receive clean passes.
This is a great read from Johnsson. Here, he notices that Zaitsev needs a passing option, and provides him with one.
Andreas Johnsson might be one of the most active players when he’s on the ice. Here he uses a stick-lift to dispossess the opposition.
While he might not win puck-battles as often as Zach Hyman, Johnsson can do some special things when he does.
Johnsson’s acceleration led to the first goal en route to his first career hat trick.
Not even Connor Brown at full effort could keep up with Johnsson’s speed here.
*Whispers* Johnsson is second on the Leafs in 5v5 penalties drawn per 60
In the offensive zone
After watching most of this line’s shifts, I can confidently say that this happens quite often: Johnsson looks for a clean pass but Brown and Lindholm do a poor job of getting open. Here, Johnsson shakes off a hit and creates a scoring chance by himself. His effort draws a penalty as well.
I absolutely love watching Andreas Johnsson when he's on.
Constantly active, looking to make a difference when he doesn't have the puck but has the skill to make plays when he is on the puck. pic.twitter.com/fFCwq614FB
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) November 17, 2018
We have seen several examples of Johnsson’s ability to find loose pucks around the net during his time with the Marlies and here’s an example of it at the NHL level.
If the Leafs put him with a top-six center, imagine what he could do…..
………. imagine…………. or just watch this clip.
In the defensive zone
Defensive awareness, risk mitigation, skill, speed and a lot of hustle. Watch Johnsson throughout this whole clip.
In a similar way to Kasperi Kapanen, you can’t make a mistake against Johnsson at your own blue line.
Andreas Johnsson doing everything
For the next two clips, don’t take your eye off of number 18.
Every game Andreas Johnsson has 2-3 shifts where he just dominates the ice.
This is the Andreas Johnsson that led the Marlies to a championship last year. pic.twitter.com/kn7H0XGdJN
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) November 20, 2018
Where should Johnsson go in the lineup?
Here are a few line combinations that the Leafs could go with once Matthews and Nylander return. These lineups were made with a prediction that Leivo and Gauthier will be scratched.
With Matthews' return and the Nylander signing (hopefully) coming soon.
Who do you take out of the lineup? Two gotta go.
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) November 23, 2018
It’s no secret that Babcock likes to play two skilled forwards with one “puck-winning” forward. In my opinion, the Leafs have four players who fall under that “puck-winning forward” category: Zach Hyman, Andreas Johnsson, Kasperi Kapanen, and Connor Brown.
Option 1: Johnsson with Tavares and Marner
Option 2: Johnsson with Matthews and Nylander
Option 3: Johnsson with Kadri and Kapanen
Option 4: Kapanen switched to LW, Johnsson to 4th line
I have seen this idea thrown around the internet the past few weeks so I thought I would add it in.
Personally, I think this makes the Leafs a top-six/bottom-six forward group in a similar way to earlier in the season. Most good NHL teams have two strong forward lines and would be able to match up to this lineup quite easily.
Andreas Johnsson possesses all the skills to be an every day top-nine player in the NHL. In my opinion, he has carried his the third line for the past few weeks and would thrive with better linemates in a similar way to Kasperi Kapanen. Finally, Johnsson’s versatility makes him an extremely valuable asset to the Leafs and he’s a player they need to start featuring more often. Regardless of whether it is Matthews, Tavares or Kadri I think it’s essential to place Johnsson with a good center when the Leafs return to full strength.