As I begin this piece today, I can’t help but feel as though the title of my article could be just one entry in a series of mysteries regarding how the New Jersey Devils 2021 season has gone. We’ve seen it all this season from underperforming special teams (at least the PK is getting better) to The Curse of the Alternate Jerseys all the way to me writing about how Travis Zajac seemed cooked before his line with Yegor Sharangovixh and Janne Kuokannen sprung to life. It’s been a bit of a strange season so far, made even stranger by the case of Andreas Johnsson.
The season started off rough for Johnsson, as he was held pointless in his first five games with the team. The Devils went 3-1-1 in that stretch however and to be fair to Andreas as well as all of the other players, there were no preseason games this year. Perhaps we were just looking at a player who needed an adjustment period; after all, not only did Johnsson have no preseason, but he was also new to the team having come over from Toronto.
Mango would begin to show signs of life in the next eight games, and he would record three goals and three assists for six points. He was playing with a bit of an edge as well, which was appreciated on a team that has been notoriously soft over the last few seasons. It seemed as though the pieces were falling into place for Johnsson to rediscover the Middle-6 winger that the Devils thought they had acquired this past offseason.
And then he went missing.
Well no, not actually of course, he’s been in the lineup all season. He hasn’t exactly been what I would call visible in recent games though, as in the team’s last 13 games, he has one meager assist. That’s not good enough for a player on a team’s fourth line, let alone a guy who the team has expected more out of. There have been periods of time during games where he has been benched due to either mistakes or just poor overall play. It’s been quite a while since I remember hearing his name associated with a positive play, single assist four games ago aside.
The biggest part of the mystery to me right now is what is keeping Johnsson in the lineup? Every other player who has underachieved has sat at least once this season, some for lesser offenses. As mentioned above, Coach Lindy Ruff hasn’t been shy about stapling him to the bench when needed, but why not try scratching him to wake him up? Why not make him the rotated out forward rather than Mikhail Maltsev or Mike McLeod? I would rather see McLeod bring some faceoff ability or some physicality rather than having a ghost float on the ice in a #11 jersey.
Johnsson is far from the only Devil who has struggled during this time, but aside from Nikita Gusev, he might be the only one who more is expected from. The other scratched players have been (again aside from Gusev) either rookies or fourth line players. A guy who is expected to be approximately a 40 point player should be scratched when he is on pace to finish the season with roughly 15 points, yet it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it will tonight, who knows?
The Devils need Mango to get going, not just for this season, but for the future as well. Maybe he winds up being a third line player over the course of his career, but even if that is the case, he needs to find his game and contribute enough offense (while also not disappearing or being a liability at the other end) to live up to that positioning. The Devils for their part have tried multiple line switches for him, some happening in mid game. Johnsson just hasn’t managed to find any lasting chemistry with anyone on the team yet. Maybe he will click with Nico Hischier when he returns, but he can’t stick around and float for the few weeks that that will take.
Any way you look at it, Johnsson just hasn’t been good enough for what he was supposed to bring to the team this season. The Devils need to find a way to either make him reappear, or have him not be a boat anchor to the rest of the forwards. Otherwise the mystery might have to change to “The New Jersey Devils and the Need to Trade Andreas Johnsson” this offseason.
What are your thoughts on Johnsson so far? Did you expect more from him, or do you think his higher stats from previous seasons were a byproduct of Toronto’s roster? Would you be in favor of the team scratching him to try to improve his play? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!