Do you ever find yourself missing Marcus Johansson? Well boy do I have a replacement option for you. High offensive upside, Swedish, left shot, speedy, smooth skater, not a whole lot of physicality to his game, feels like he’s always injured—sound right?
Johannesson 2.0 comes in a more compact package than the original version, at just 5’9” and 150lbs. He’s also a defenseman, for reasons I have yet to understand after watching some of his games and reading profiles on him. His style fits more of a winger to me—small and agile, quick hands and feet, small, good lateral movement, quick release on a good wrist shot, small, great offensive drive and creativity to develop scoring chances, and small. Did I mention he’s small?
Let me be clear, I am generally pro-smaller defensemen—give me a shorter reach with quicker feet and better hands any day over a giraffe on skates. Where size is lacking, however, there has to be strength, and Johannesson just doesn’t have it. He’s willing to battle for pucks and at least ties up opposing players a bit but is often not capable of winning the puck back. His defensive reads are not consistent enough to diffuse plays without having to battle. He also doesn’t have much of a slap shot, and his speed is more due to quick feet and little weight holding him back than an explosive first few steps. So why is he still ranked around the top 100 prospects for this years draft? For one thing— his offensive upside. He’s a smart player offensively who can be extremely crafty in the zone. He makes intelligent reads and creates scoring chances and can make opposing defensemen look silly when he has the puck on his stick. In the J20 SuperElit this season he put up over a point per game, a scoring pace that’s not unusual for him. The other reason is Johannesson has missed a lot of development time due to injuries. He’s missed a solid chunk of the past two years, which could definitely account for his lack of strength (tough to bulk and build muscle when you’re in physical therapy year round) as well as his defensive miscues.
His ice vision and passing is already solid:
For teams looking to draft, Johannesson is one extremely high risk-high reward prospect. On the one hand, he may not develop any further than he already is, I’d be concerned he’s injury prone after the past two seasons, and he’s already at a disadvantage due to his height that at his floor, he doesn’t make it past junior hockey. On the other hand— he heals up from a couple random injuries, bulks up on an NHL-level development plan, builds his defensive skills and becomes an absolute steal of a pick, even a top-pairing-level potential. I’d make one more argument based on my earlier statement, and this is the scenario I think is actually most likely— let’s say he heals up, builds some muscle, but doesn’t quite get the defensive awareness you’d want at the NHL level. At this age, those skills are extremely hard to teach. Why not work with what he’s got? Make him a winger—he already looks like one! He has the offensive mindset, the skillset, the skating, and the league is trending more towards the small-and-skilled forward every day. This gives you multiple options to make him an impactful player, and the only thing you’d be risking is a third or fourth round pick.
Look at him just walk the entire opposing team—
This little D is really intriguing Anton Johannesson— Yannick St-Pierre (@DraftDynasty1) March 8, 2020
5ft9 and 154lbs, he looks like he's 15 years old. Extremely gifted, he's a natural. Very long term project but he could be worth the wait. Better pts per game than Erik Karlsson and Adam boqvist in SuperElit J20 pic.twitter.com/BPHGlKqKUf
I mean seriously—
Why is this kid not a forward??
My verdict? Take the risk and draft him
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have the 6’2” 170lb Russian defenseman Mukhamadullin. The young blueliner doesn’t focus a lot on the offensive half of his game but can be a force to be reckoned with in his own end. He’s got a good long reach that he uses to disrupt rushing players with ease. He doesn’t lose crease or corner battles often. Once he has the puck he moves it well either by skating it out of the zone himself or making smart passes to his forwards. In the offensive zone, beware the cannon behind his slap shot. He also has good lateral movement that ensures he isn’t just a one trick pony at the point.
This is just exactly what I want to see my defensemen do—
Solid sequence of play for Shakir Mukhamadullin. He’s the 7th D today for Salavat Yulaev. Quality pass off the boards in the d zone. Solid shot attempt in the o zone, but it was deflected by a Torpedo defender. #2020NHLDraft #Ufa #SalavatYulaev #KHL pic.twitter.com/9AbSYYKj98— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) October 1, 2019
And the kids got a blast too.
The downside to Mukhamadullin is that he can sometimes be a perfect example of that giraffe on skates problem— size lets bigger defensemen seem better than they are through a lot of their development, until they come to a level where the opposing players are either the same size or quicker, and it becomes evident that they haven’t really developed their playmaking or positioning very well because they never had to before. Now suddenly just having a long reach isn’t enough when fast players can side-step you, or a pair of good hands can go right through your reach, or an equally-sized opponent can use their own reach to take the puck right off your stick as you’re fumbling it up the ice. Mukhamadullin represents this problem well. He is an okay puck handler and often has good ice vision, but other times makes inexplicably bad passes or is an easy turnover target in the defensive zone.
This is not what I want to see my defensemen do—
His inconsistency has left him with an extremely wide range in draft rankings, with some like Steve Kournianos calling him one of the most polished defensemen in this draft (he explains his turnovers and poor passes as “trying to tackle every problem on his own, albeit with good intentions”) while others like Jokke Nevalainen put him more around 100th overall due to his offensive mishaps. Check out On The Forecheck’s profile on him for a good breakdown of the clips above as well.
My verdict? The Devils need defense, but I’d argue this is not the kind we need. Even his ceiling doesn’t interest me all that much to convince me to take a flyer on this kid. I wish luck to whoever drafts him, but I hope its not us.
If you’re looking for the best of both world’s option from the two styles above, you’re looking for Joni Jurmo. At 6’3/6’4” 198lbs, he’s already built like an NHL defenseman. Even more importantly, he plays like one. Jurmo’s on-ice demeanor is one of my absolute favorite things to see in a prospect— calm. He doesn’t try to force plays, he doesn’t panic and create turnovers, he minds his gap on defense and doesn’t rush the poke check or back up too much and give the forward room to make a move. He plays good, clean, confident hockey. He doesn’t have a laser of a slap shot, but it’s low and accurate and good for redirections and rebounds. He’s not the strongest or most aggressive defenseman, but he’s happy to battle when needed and at his size it will be easy to add a bit more strength. I’d prefer a smart blueliner over a big aggressive one anyway. He’s not the quickest skater, but he moves well and transitions smoothly, has a strong stride that can be explosive when needed and can keep up with other players both forward and back.
Joni Jurmo is 6'3" and can move like this. #7 and the one doing the stuff in the fun colours. pic.twitter.com/kKiUXeIpSx— Will Scouch (@Scouching) October 19, 2019
This is a great clip of Joni Jurmo.— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) May 11, 2020
Great lateral movement along the blue line and he mans the cycle. Skates around the half-wall, wraps around the net and delivers a shot in the slot. pic.twitter.com/tPx6myHJbT
Those crossovers are angelic
There are a few who have found fault in his game— Jokke Nevalainen feels he attempts to carry the puck too much too often, and his defensive positioning isn’t always ideal. Here’s an example although this particular one happens to work out for him-
From yesterday: LHD Joni Jurmo (2020) carries the puck up the ice - which is something he loves to do - and gets a bit lucky when his shot goes in.— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) October 31, 2019
3 goals and 12 points in 15 #ASM games now. #2020NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/3dRahQ5L5X
Others have noted he’ll occasionally try to jump into the zone too hard after a loose puck and get beat, pinch too aggressively, or chase the puck carrier a little too far out of his position in the defensive zone. Personally, I’m okay with all that— I’d be concerned if there weren’t mistakes on his resume. Good players have to take risks sometimes, and he’s only a teenager so his play will continue to develop and become more polished by the time he becomes an NHL-level prospect, assuming that happens. The biggest area of concern at least for me is his current level of competition— he’s played mostly in the Finish U20 league, which is generally considered a bit below the CHL in terms of overall skill level, so it’s tough to predict exactly “how he’d play against men” as they say, whereas prospects like Mukhamadullin playing in the KHL have a more direct line of comparison. He do did well in the wider talent pool of the Four Nations U19 tournament, putting up an impressive 6 points in 3 games despite generally not being an offensively dynamic player, so that lends some support to his abilities.
His rankings are, like most d-men, generally all over the place. Some have him somewhere in the third round (Future Considerations, The Hockey Writers) whereas Steve Kournianos projects him going as high as the late first round.
My verdict? It’s not even a question of should we take him, it’s will he be available. Given the Devils need for defense and his relatively high floor in my opinion, I wouldn’t even be mad if we took him with Vancouver’s first, which I expect will be a late pick (depending who else is available of course). I would be mad if he is still available for us in the third (I‘m assuming Carolina’s pick will upgrade via Vatanen playing a lot) or early fourth round and we skip him. Draft him, draft him, draft him.
Which dman would you draft? What are your thoughts when it comes to blueliner style— big and brawny, or small and swift? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!