World Junior Championship Day 10: Toronto’s Swedish sniper

Andreas Johnson was a late-round pick for the Maple Leafs who has turned it up a notch since learning he had asthma. Now nothing can stop the prolific goal-scorer.

MALMO, SWEDEN – As the leading junior-aged scorer in Sweden’s best league for men, Andreas Johnson makes you wonder how the Toronto Maple Leafs managed to snag such a prolific producer with just the 202nd pick overall in the 2013 draft. The right winger was also a great scorer in his draft year while playing junior, but perhaps he was overlooked for so long because of a knock on his conditioning and a perception he didn’t work hard enough.

But now there’s an answer for those faults: Johnson never knew he had asthma until this summer. Once diagnosed, he was able to work with his malady and is a brand-new player, earning a spot on the world junior team after being snubbed for the summer camp in Lake Placid and putting up six points through five games in Malmo.

“I feel like I can skate a lot more, it’s not just 20 seconds and I feel like dying,” Johnson said. “Now I can skate 40 seconds and the next shift I feel good again. I feel more confident and I can do things faster on the ice. I can lift more (in the weight room) and my conditioning is much better, so it’s good.”

Johnson’s season got off to a great start when his Frolunda Indians team were playing in the club championship European Trophy tournament. He led all junior-aged players with five goals and eight points in seven games, more than teammate Alexander Wennberg and Jokerit’s Teuvo Teravainen – both of whom are highly-touted first round NHL draft picks.

“I didn’t expect to get so many points, but I played with two good players in Mathis Olimb and Robin Figren who helped me a lot,” Johnson said. “It helped my confidence a lot.”

And it certainly didn’t hurt his resume when it came to Sweden’s world junior team. Johnson had never been on track for international duty, only playing one under-19 tournament last season and missing out entirely as a younger player.

“He’s in way better shape now,” said coach Rikard Gronborg. “He does the dirty work. He does the backchecking, he’s blocking shots and he’s playing in the defensive zone. I always saw him a a pure scorer, but to play on the national team you need to work. If you look at him now, he’s up there; he’s doing the work.”

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Here in Malmo, he’s been playing on an all-Frolunda line with Montreal pick Sebastian Collberg and Columbus pick Wennberg, though they don’t actually play together in the SHL. With NHLers Filip Forsberg and Elias Lindholm tearing it up on another scoring line with Habs prospect Jacob De La Rose, the Swedes have been putting gashes in goaltenders all tournament long. Gronborg characterizes Johnson as a pure sniper who is lethal in front of the net and the kid cites Phil Kessel as a favorite, something Toronto fans will have no problem with.

“He’s a very good player, this is his year,” said Frolunda and world junior teammate Anton Karlsson. “It’s nice to watch him on the ice, he scores on good plays.”

So with the asthma identified and the issue of hard work resolved, there isn’t much left to figure out for Johnson. He’s not tall at 5-foot-10, but his build appears pretty solid and we know he can score against both men and while under the international spotlight. Johnson himself sees tweaks he can still improve upon.

“I would like to work on my defensive coverage, keeping my eye on the defenseman,” he said. “If they’re a skilled player you have to be alert. I would like to hold on to the puck more, too. Be more confident there.”

With all his talent, confidence shouldn’t be an issue in any facet of the game for much longer with the youngster.

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