Albert Johansson: Prospect Profile

Albert Johansson Farjestad
By Jeff Watters

February 2, 2021

Albert Johansson was taken by the Red Wings 60th overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Not two years later, it’s looking like another excellent pick by Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings scouting department.

Drafted as a smooth-skating, two-way defenseman teeming with skill, smarts, and untapped offensive potential, Johansson has quickly blossomed into one of the Red Wings’ top prospects. The 6’0″ defenseman seems to be brimming with confidence this season and has taken his game to the next level — much to the delight of Red Wings fans.

Johansson has all the makings of a top-4 defenseman in the NHL and he joins Moritz Seider atop a group of talented Red Wings defense prospects.

With aging veterans and bottom-pair defensemen playing key roles on the back-end, things have been bleak in Hockeytown — but the youth movement is coming and reinforcements could be on the way soon.

Johansson may not be the first to arrive, but when he does, he’ll bring a dynamic that’s been lacking in Detroit for some time.

The Formative Years

Like a number of current Red Wings and Red Wings prospects, Albert Johansson has NHL bloodlines. His father, Roger, played 161 games over parts of 4 seasons with the Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks. Drafted in the 4th round in 1985, he went on to spend most of his professional career lacing up for the same Färjestad team his son currently plays for.

Albert Johansson has played in the Färjestad organization since the 2014-15 season, but it wasn’t until his draft-minus-1 season that he began to excel as a point-producing defender. In 2017-18, Johansson had 9 goals and 23 points in 19 games in the J18 Elit before producing a modest 2 goals and 8 points over 19 J18 Allsvenskan contests. He also played 9 games for the J20 team, scoring once and adding 3 helpers.

At the time, Johansson wasn’t on many radars as a prospect with true NHL potential. He was very small, lacked the confidence to use his skill set, and was overshadowed by bigger, more physically mature teammates.

The Draft Year

Johansson represented Team Sweden at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Edmonton and Red Deer. At the time, Johansson was just 5’9” and 152 lbs — one of the smallest players in the entire tournament. In 5 games, Johansson was held off the scoresheet but played a strong supporting role on a silver medal-winning Swedish squad.

Johansson then spent the majority of the season dominating the J20 SuperElit. 

While he was more of a depth player on Sweden’s national team, he demonstrated his ability to be much more with his club team in Färjestad.

Albert Johansson Team Sweden
Johansson’s international play didn’t go unnoticed in 2018-19. | Photo: Jonas Forsberg/ BILDBYRÅN

The speedy blueliner piled up 29 points (5 goals) in 40 games for Färjestad J20. He also joined the J18 team for their playoff run, adding 2 goals and 5 points in 6 playoff games. 

This performance put Johansson in the conversation as a potential early Day 2 pick in the 2019 draft. As the year progressed, Johansson’s draft stock continued to rise. While he was clearly a tier or two below other Swedish defenders Victor Söderström and Philip Broberg, his long-term upside was tantalizing. Yes, his size remained a concern, but his speed, skill, and defensive awareness could not be overlooked.

Johansson wrapped up his draft year at the U18 World Championships (we all remember how that ended *cough* Lucas Raymond hat-trick *cough*). His ability to thrive in a defensive role allowed scouts to truly appreciate his well-rounded game. After running and gunning with Färjestad, Johansson transitioned into more of a shutdown defender as he was far from the go-to guy for the national team.

The Red Wings saw enough in Johansson to bank on his upside in the 2nd round. They took him with the 60th overall pick — a selection that’s looking more and more like a Day 2 heist.

Taking Steps Forward

After establishing himself as a reliable two-way defender during his draft year, Johansson forced his way onto Färjestad’s SHL team in 2019-20. Like most teenagers, he struggled to produce early on in his SHL career — still just 18 for more than half of the season. Playing against much tougher competition, Johansson settled into a steady supporting role. He averaged just 12:56 of ice time as a rookie, scoring 2 goals and adding 11 assists in 42 SHL games.

This kind of rookie season is not uncommon in the SHL. As we all know, the SHL is not a development league with coaches handing ice time to young players by the orders of NHL GMs. Consequently, a defenseman like Johansson can quickly resort to a more conservative brand of hockey than they’re accustomed to in an attempt to limit mistakes. 

For Johansson, it wasn’t until the tail end of the 2019-20 season that he was given some special teams consideration. This seemed to be just what he needed.

In Johansson’s final 4 games, he had 5 points — all assists — almost doubling his output for the entire season. He also averaged about 2:30 more of ice time over these 4 contests. Johansson was beginning to build confidence and seemed primed to take on a more prominent role. He was playing on the power play and logging some minutes on the penalty kill as well.

And then…COVID19.

The SHL season came to an abrupt end and Johansson was forced to put this progress on hold.

However, his performance was enough to elicit a contract offer from the Red Wings. On June 5, 2020, Johansson signed his entry-level deal.

The 2020-21 Season 

When play resumed this past September, the skilled defender picked up right where he left off the season before. Johansson tallied 4 points in his first 7 games.

Since the end of last season, he’s been playing with more confidence; looking to create and utilize his skill to drive offense. He’s continued to use his speed to his advantage in all facets of his game. 

Johansson’s clearly taken major steps forward in the past calendar year, and that “untapped offensive upside” has been front and center.  He’s often looked like a forward as he recognizes opportunities to join the rush and weave through traffic in the offensive zone. Johansson knows he can quickly make up ground and backcheck like a forward if he needs to.

He maintains possession on zone entries when most defenders would end a rush and resort to a dump-and-chase, low event play. 

Yes, that’s Albert Johansson. A defenseman.

Watch how quickly he activates in the clip below. Johansson doesn’t take a few strides, let up, and wait for a pass — he recognizes the opportunity to head directly to a scoring area and lets his teammate figure out how to get him the puck.

Most pinching defenders would’ve let up around the 2 second mark. They probably would’ve looked to receive the pass and fire a cross-crease feed with the hopes of a tip-in.

Not Johansson.

Johansson’s impressive first half earned him a spot on Sweden’s World Juniors team this past December/January. He and most of his teammates didn’t perform all that well, but we did see glimpses of what makes Johansson so exciting. His end-to-end rushes, fearlessness in the dirty areas, and high-end skill were on display.

Some questionable decision-making stood out as well, with Johansson making some unnecessarily dangerous passes and overthinking a handful of routine scenarios.

Of course, this is all a part of the learning process for the now 20-year-old, and his breakout year shouldn’t be overshadowed by a subpar World Juniors. 

Johansson now has 4 goals and 9 points in 28 SHL games this season. He also has a 5v5 GF% of 64.3 and a 50.9 CF% — leading the team among skaters with at least 17 games played (Svengelka Hockey). He’s played a complete game this season, and I’m confident the points will come when Johansson plays with more NHL-calibre talent.

Johansson was recently named to the Swedish National Team for the Beijer Hockey Games (Feb. 11-14). He’ll join Jonatan Berggren as two of the youngest players in the tournament. This is very telling as to how favorably Johansson is viewed.

What Will Albert Johansson Ultimately Become?

I love Albert Johansson’s game — his potential is just so exciting. 

He’s an elite-skating defenseman. Whether it’s retreating to his own zone to thwart an offensive attack or calling his own number and transitioning through all three zones with the puck, Johansson will wow you with his effortless stride.

There’s some unpredictability to Johansson’s execution of zone entries. He’s really a quadruple threat as he can dish to a winger and peel off; put himself in a position to immediately receive a return pass; enter the zone on his own; or fire off a tape-to-tape pass before he hits the neutral zone. Johansson recognizes skating and passing lanes and fills them up quickly. 

Not only that, he’s very elusive with the puck. From his edgework and pivots to his quick shoulder fakes, he’s able to evade forecheckers in the defensive zone and create space inside the opponent’s blueline. He uses his crafty puck handling to add to this deceptiveness, making it difficult for opponents to predict his next move.

This puck-handling will make you take notice. Here’s my favorite highlight of his this season:

This leads us to his intelligence. Johansson is able to maximize the effectiveness of his skating and puck skills with his high hockey IQ — a trait the Red Wings have seemingly targeted above all others in recent drafts. For Johansson, this means processing the game at a high level and making quick decisions in all three zones. He’s poised — with and without the puck — and rarely rushes a play or makes an unforced error.

Johansson’s physical play is one of the more undervalued aspects of his game. While he still needs to add the strength necessary to handle net-front threats in his defensive zone, Johansson is not afraid to engage physically. 

He routinely steps up to those entering his zone, sealing off the boards and causing broken zone entries. He’s also able to recognize opportunities to lay the body in open ice without overcommitting and putting his team in a vulnerable position defensively. 

Sound like a former Red Wing? (More on this in a moment).

His overall defensive play is strong. He uses his stick well and takes advantage of his wheels to cover ground and force turnovers.

Johansson does need to continue to work on his shot. He’s never going to be a huge threat to score goals himself — his strength lies in his puck distribution — but an improved shot would make him more of an imposing figure on the power play.

Core/lower body strength will be the other area we can expect the Red Wings development team to focus/have focused on with Johansson. Already a fantastic skater, this could really take his explosiveness to the next level. 

Johansson projects as a two-way, top 4 defender who could play the point on the power play. I think he could make some noise in Detroit at some point in 2023.

The Niklas Kronwall Effect

Over the course of the season, Johansson has been in regular contact with Nik Kronwall. Could you imagine a better mentor? This should be music to Red Wings fans’ ears.

Like Johansson, Kronwall was very small when drafted — checking in at 5’10” and 160 lbs. Undersized, skilled, and more than ready to engage physically; seems like a match made in heaven, no? 

Niklas Kronwall drafted by Red Wings
Former Assist. GM Jim Nill, Niklas Kronwall, and Scottie Bowman. Kronwall was taken with the 29th overall pick in 2000. |

Kronwall, an advisor to GM Steve Yzerman, has put in one-on-one time with Johansson, dropping knowledge he’s gathered over the course of a 15-year NHL career; knowledge that couldn’t be more pertinent to Johansson’s growth and maturation as a similarly built defenseman facing the same challenges.

There’s obviously no guarantee Johansson is able to tack on another 20+ lbs to become the near 200 lb tank Kronwall was able to turn himself into. But I can’t think of a better situation for Johansson to be in. When someone like Nik Kronwall speaks, you listen. His tutelage will be invaluable to the Wings prosepect.

Final Thoughts

With Johansson rounding out the top 5 of Pipeline’s current iteration of the Red Wings’ Top 20, the future’s looking bright in Detroit.

Like Moritz Seider, Johansson has that combination of floor and ceiling that I think will make the Red Wings come out of the 2019 draft looking very, very sharp. I would be pretty shocked if Johansson doesn’t turn into an NHL regular at the very least. 

His speed, skill, and smarts should be enough to get him to the NHL. His commitment off the ice will dictate how far he takes his game. 

It’ll likely be a few more years before Johansson has locked down a spot on the Red Wings’ blueline, but when he arrives the team should look dramatically different and much more competitive. 

Featured Image: BILDBYRÅN

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *