Welcome to this year’s Top 25 Under 25 series. If you’re unfamiliar, we’re going player-by-player in a ranking of the top 25 Minnesota Wild players that are under the age of 25. It’s fairly simple. Enjoy!
No one should be surprised if Simon Johansson is considered a late-bloomer and suddenly blossoms into a decent-to-good defenseman during his first taste of North American professional hockey this season. It has taken a while for him to get here, but after just last season he more than deserves it.
A product of Djurgårdens IF — just like the 2022 first-rounder Liam Öhgren — Johansson steadily climbed up the developmental ladder and made the full-time SHL team in the 2019-20 season. He was still young though and did not earn it enough to be prominent in the lineup and play consistent hockey at the top level in Sweden. The very next season he was still able to play the same amount of SHL games but was loaned down to the Allsvenskan (the Swedish second division) and had his offensive spark back, scoring 12 points in 14 games.
That season must have made Johansson realize that Sweden just wasn’t the place for him to play and an opportunity elsewhere was needed. Well, that might have been the smartest decision of his life.
Last season, while playing away from home for the first time in his career, he laced up his skates for Ilves in the Finnish Liiga and had an incredible season scoring 32 points in 58 games and even keeping up that production through the postseason. All of that was enough to earn him a rookie contract with the Wild and he will be beginning his 2022-23 campaign down with AHL Iowa.
All of this is to say that thank goodness Johansson has eventually made it after showing signs of being yet another draft pick that just hangs out overseas and sees his career waste away as just a local player.
As mentioned above, the stat line that weaves through each of his seasons tells its own story and this is the one time where you can actually read between the lines into what was going on. Some major-league struggles, a demotion, a little bit of a shine as an overdeveloped defenseman, and then finding somewhere else to play for what could have been his last chance and making the most out of it.
Johansson certainly produced enough in junior to give another kick at the proverbial can to get that offense going and not just be a lanky, right-handed, Swedish version of Tyler Myers.
Now what does he do on the ice? He rips clappers.
Roll the Tape
Watching Johansson play, at times he looks like an awkward gazelle trying to skate through the neutral zone, and other times, when he is set up in the offensive zone, he can just keep cycling the puck and play his role until scoring that pivotal goal.
Simon Johansson with his biggest game for Ilves this year. Logging a season-high 24:30 TOI, he completes Ilves 3 goal comeback by scoring the game-tying goal with 9 seconds left in the third. He's up to 4 goals and 12 assists for 16 points and is on a 3 game point streak #mnwild pic.twitter.com/WHOQR7Nva9— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) January 8, 2022
Yeah, he can score goals.
Another day another clap bomb from Simon Johansson. Also registered an assist in the second period.— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) January 13, 2022
4 game point streak, now up to 5 goals and 13 assists on the season #mnwild pic.twitter.com/RQBGIr52jw
And do cool stuff like this:
I, for one, am really curious as to how this translates to North American ice and if he can keep up the same level of communication and vision as he appeared to have in Finland. With such a weirdly young defense core — with players like Ryan O’Rourke and Daemon Hunt turning pro — Johansson can at least be that little-bit-older guy to possibly learn while also teaching. It is going to be an interesting season in Iowa.
And that sentiment kind of just slides into our discussion about Johansson’s future. If he can play defense on just an average level, he might end up just quickly clipping the heels of some older Wild players and forcing some exits. Would Minnesota management be comfortable starting next season with Johansson and Calen Addison playing full-time if Dmitry Kulikov and Matt Dumba walk in free agency? Maybe, maybe not. But it will all depend on how the next several months go.
Johansson will certainly be given another chance if he sucks this year — he does have two years on his deal — so he’ll stick around, but if he just ends up being a one-way blueliner like Brennan Menell, or even just something not notable whatsoever in the AHL, they can at least say they tried and made their way over here.