When the Devils acquired Andreas Johnsson from the Maple Leafs last October for prospect Joey Anderson, the deal was viewed as a big win for the Devils, at least in terms of value added. Johnsson already had a 20 goal season under his belt, along with very strong 5 on 5 stats and scoring efficiency, averaging over 2 pts per 60 minutes in his prior 3 seasons before the trade. Unfortunately, last season didn’t exactly go as expected for the Swedish LW. Johnsson managed just 11 points in 50 games, scoring on just 7.7% of his shots, by far the lowest of his young career. And after last season, many fans wanted Johnsson gone. Waive him, or trade him for a bag of pucks. And having watched too many Devils games last season, it was definitely easy to get frustrated with the lack of results from a player who was supposed to help round out the top-6. The eye-test said he was invisible most nights, and when Fitzgerald decided to leave him exposed in the expansion draft, I can’t say I had any issues with that decision. But this is where the importance of using data to verify what our very faulty memories recall. Because while the production wasn’t there, his shooting percentage (well below his career average), along with his underlying numbers, pointed to him being a strong candidate for regression (positive regression if you prefer). Todd Cordell over at Infernal Access ($) had a post where he broke this down in more detail, but to hit some of the highlights, he was over 52% xGF% and the Devils had over 54% of the scoring chances with Johnsson on the ice, which were 3rd and 2nd among Devils forwards, respectively. He was also one of the few Devils forwards to be a net positive in even strength defense and was 2nd among forwards in shot suppression on a per 60 min basis. Bottom line, the underlying data points to Johnsson being way more effective than his point totals or most Devils fans give him credit for. And now we are seeing what he is capable of when the pucks (all of the pucks) do go in the net for him and his teammates.
In just 11 games this season, Johnsson has already surpassed his goal total from last season, and is 2 points shy of equalling his point total. He currently leads the Devils in points, with 9, one ahead of Zacha, and two up on Mercer and Hischier. So is he actually playing better? Certainly it looks and feels like it, but relying solely on the eye test is pretty silly given what we know of how the brain works and what we saw from Johnsson last season. So what do the numbers say? Well, Johnsson is 5th among NJ forwards with an xGF% North of 53%, and is 3rd in scoring chance percentage at 54.14%. One area he has made good strides in, although he was no slouch in this area last year either, is in driving play. He currently has a 54.98% CF%, good for 3rd among forwards behind Bratt and Hischier. That’s a really good number and if he keeps it up all season would have him among the best in the league at driving play. He is also 1st among Devils forwards (and skaters) in EvolvingHockey’s xGAR/60, in large part due to his offensive contributions. Amusingly enough, Johnsson has not, in fact, regressed to the mean with his production this year. He has blown right past it to the other extreme. This is probably not a surprise to anyone however, since he’s currently scoring on 37.5% of his shots, which I feel very safe in pointing out is not going to continue. And it doesn’t need to. Johnsson has helped to pick up the slack offensively this year, but eventually players like Tatar and Sharangovich will need to start producing more. And Hischier has also been playing well lately so we can probably expect the floodgates to open up for him soon. All Johnsson needs to do is continue to drive play and chip in a goal here and there and the Devils can breath a sigh of relief that Seattle passed on him for Nathan Bastian. But it is hard not to be happy for the guy, as he is getting the boost of confidence he so clearly needed after last season, and it is amazing what that does for an athlete. For example, on the second goal he scored last night against the Panthers, watch Johnsson deliberately kick Mercer’s pass back to him (I had to slow it down to see it), before accepting the puck back on his stick and putting it past Knight. That’s a player who’s feeling it.
NHL Video Highlight - Andreas Johnsson scores against the Florida Panthers to make it 3-3. pic.twitter.com/14hbNHNoIj— NJDevils Game Bot (@NJDevilsGameBot) November 10, 2021
The one area where Johnsson hasn’t been equally or more effective than last season is defensively, where he sits near the bottom of the roster, hanging out with Tatar, Subban, and Smith in terms of xEVD. This is due to him giving up 55.7 CA/60, the 6th highest rate of shot attempts against on the roster (min 50 minutes), as well as the 2nd most xGA/60 at 2.45. The fact that he remains in the black in both CF% and xGF% indicates that when he’s on the ice, everything is happening. I don’t fully know how to explain the drastic difference year over year in terms of his defensive stats. It could be how he’s being used, as last year he ended up spending more time in a checking role and perhaps he was more focused on defense, where he now is being used more offensively. I’ll note that this entire post comes with a small sample size warning, by the way, as 11 games is not a ton of data and major shifts in these numbers may occur with more games. The bottom line however, is that while Johnsson is playing better overall, it’s not to the extent that his counting stats would suggest. It took a year longer than expected, but we are finally seeing the Andreas Johnsson we expected when the Devils traded for him.
What are your thoughts on Johnsson’s start this year? If you wanted him off the roster, have you changed your mind? If you thought he would regress back to the mean after a terrrible season last year, how are you feeling about his season so far? Are his poor defensive numbers concerning? Will Johnsson be the next Alex Tanguay and shoot at 20% for the rest of his career? Leave your thoughts below and thank you for reading!