Many fans raised their eyebrows when Hockey Prospect’s Black Book came out, and a small defender from Sweden that no one had heard about was ranked 31st. However, not many scouts were surprised, as Rögle, where Johannesson plays, had to extend the press box to facilitate all the NHL scouts that were showing up to see him at the end of the season.
What makes Johannesson, a 2000-born player, interesting to the scouts?
Date of birth: December 27, 2000
Weight: 176 lbs.
Team: Rögle BK (SHL)
The smallish defender was called up from the U20s and never relinquished the spot on the senior team thanks to a high hockey IQ that is evident in his understanding of the time and space on the ice. His read of the game, the ice, and the opponents seem to give him a lot of options, and he usually picks the right one.
His skill with the puck is high and he looks like an SHL veteran when distributing passes. What is more impressive for the SHL rookie is that nine of his 11 points came when the play was at even strength, including his only goal of the season. It is his five on five play that draws attention, not being a power-play machine.
Johannesson said to Eyes On The Prize in February that “It has been tough to take in what has happened this season,” both for himself and the team. “You live in the moment and you will have to reflect on everything come the off-season. Right now I have to focus on my play.”
He took a spot early this season and, that was thanks to listening to his coaches.
“I have waited to build up my body, that’s something I have to do when I can grow into it easier. Thanks to training I have been able to take it slow and have an easier transition into the team, and getting a bigger role with the team.”
His role in Rögle has made the scouts and NHL clubs aware of his potential. While a few teams have spoken to him, it’s not of a major concern for the young defender.
“We will see what happens,” he said during our discussion. “Right now the focus is on Rögle, and getting better.”
The one thing many notice when watching Johannesson is his spatial awareness and his ability to read the game. He rarely looks out of place and he looks to always play the smart play. His hockey IQ is high and it lets him play the game with poise and at his own style.
That is especially visible when the puck is on his stick. He controls the puck really well and he can find outlet passes and quarterback a power play with similar ease. He uses small and late adjustments to throw off the opponent, giving his teammates time and space to work with when the pass arrives.
Another thing that head coach Cam Abbott mentions is his work ethic. Johannesson is a player who puts in that extra work, paying particular attention to his weaker aspects — his shot and physical game — even during the season. There is no doubt that the defender will have benefited from this long off-season to improve on both things.
As with most young players in a pro league, Johannesson struggled with the physical game. It was in that area that his youth and inexperience stood out. He has at times been outmuscled and outfought, but he is working hard to change that.
However, there is an explanation to this. The coaches have asked Johannesson to wait with building up his body, and the player have listened to the team preferring to develop that bit slowly and correctly rather than build up too fast and cause problems in other, stronger areas of his game.
His defensive game has shown flaws, especially early in his SHL career. Having played outstanding in the U20s, he sometimes had a bit of hubris. This made him try things that worked in the youth tournaments, with the result being that stronger and more experienced players read him with ease. This led to some difficult situations early in the year, but those situations were ironed out during the season with experience and coaching. He spent time with video coaches and got in extra training on the ice.
Elite Prospects: N/R
Future Considerations: #219
Hockey Prospect: #31
McKeen’s Hockey: N/R
NHL Central Scouting: #33 (European skaters)
Johannesson is an over-ager, and finished fourth among Junior defenders in scoring, beating Philip Broberg by three points while playing less time. He also outproduced two other defenders in the 2020 NHL draft class: Filip Johansson and Helge Grans. They are, however, one year younger than Johannesson.
It is in these comparisons that Johannesson should be measured. He has more points than Broberg, one of the top offensive-minded defenders of last year’s class who was selected at number eight by the Edmonton Oilers. Getting the chance to draft someone with different skills but who has proven himself at a similar level will be something that a few teams will look into as an option.
Montreal will undoubtedly be one of those teams. The Montreal Canadiens have had success with second-year players from Sweden in recent years, with Lukas Vejdemo, who has played in the NHL, and Matttias Norlinder, who does look set to play with the Habs down the line.
It is the hockey IQ that makes Johannesson the target. While he isn’t the biggest player around, he reads the game well and creates space for both himself and his teammates.
There is no doubt that he will be a player that many teams will watch with huge interest when the SHL season starts again. While many scouting services have had him unranked, a lot of focus will be on the Rögle defender when the season opens. Teams that thought they had a hidden gem will have to fight to get the defender, and with a good start to the season, I believe he might even be picked toward the end of the first round.
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