The Toronto Maple Leafs are stacked at forward already and there’s another one coming. Which line the Maple Leafs decide to play Andreas Johnsson on is the only question. This season, he led the Toronto Marlies to their first Calder Cup trophy in team history, won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy for Calder Cup MVP, and lead the AHL in playoff points with 24 in 16 games this season. A full-time job with the Maple Leafs next year is his to lose.
Which Line Will The Maple Leafs Play Andreas Johnsson On
He’s only played in nine career regular season NHL games. But Johnsson looks like he belongs in the NHL. He had two points in another six games against the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He had three points in his first game of the AHL playoffs. That was the final and deciding game of the Marlies first-round series against the Utica Comets. Johnsson, a seventh-round pick from 2013, deserves a chance at the NHL level.
The Fourth Line
Johnsson played primarily on the fourth line for the Maple Leafs this season. With Kasperi Kapanen on the other wing of that line. That line was one of the quickest and most dangerous fourth lines in the NHL. He could find himself starting on the fourth line again to start the 2018-2019 season. Johnsson would then be in a position to earn his way up the lineup. Mike Babcock might like the idea of having a speedy fourth line and leave Kapanen on the fourth line with Johnsson. The problem with that the Maple Leafs may no longer have the depth on wing to keep two potential scoring threats on the fourth line.
Despite reports to the contrary, it’s unlikely the Maple Leafs will re-sign James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, or Leo Komarov. They’re also going to lose Dominic Moore and Tomas Plekanec. That leaves two open spots at centre and one more open spot on the wing if you assume Kapanen and Johnsson both make the team. If William Nylander moves to centre, that fills one of the centre roles but opens another at wing.
If Nylander remains on the wing, which is more likely, the Maple Leafs will be pursuing a free agent center. The fourth line center role could be filled by Miro Aaltonen, Par Lindholm or Frederik Gauthier. Josh Leivo is, surprisingly, signed for another year. Those three players could round out the roster.
Hyman- Matthews -Nylander/Marner
Marleau- Kadri – Marner/Nylander
Johnsson – Free Agent – Kapanen/Brown
Leivo – Aaltonen/Lindholm/Gauthier – Brown/Kapanen
The First Line
It’s been reported that Auston Matthews wants to play with Mitch Marner. If Nylander stays on the wing, he could either remain on the top line with Matthews or drop to the second to as Marner moves up. Johnsson plays on the other side and would be a great addition to the top line regardless of who is on the right side. However, Zach Hyman has consistently been on Matthews left wing.
Babcock likes Hyman’s style as a compliment to Matthews. “Hyman is a guy who gets the puck back all the time”, according to Babcock. That sounds fine, but Matthews has proven he can get his own pucks. What he really needs is a guy that can finish. Hyman is not that, but Johnsson is. By the end of the season, Johnsson may be on the top line with Matthews. But it’s a safe bet to say Babcock will have Hyman there in October.
The Third Line
Johnsson’s best fit to start the season may be on the third line. Kapanen could also start the season there with him. It’s the same idea as last year’s fourth line, but they would get a little more ice time and have a greater expectation to score. Who fits between them will be key for this line and that depends on who the Maple Leafs find to help out at center.
If the Maple Leafs acquire big name at center, John Tavares seems less likely every day, it would force Nazem Kadri down to the third line. Joe Thornton, who would be re-united with Patrick Marleau, and Paul Stastny are two free agent options. The Maple Leafs could also surprise with a trade. If they can manage to get a second line center, Kadri on the third line between Johnsson and Kapanen could be an impressive third line.
If the Maple Leafs acquire a lesser name, it would have to be someone they expect would be a good fit between Johnsson and Kapanen. That means speed is key. That means no Frederik Gauthier. Kadri would then stay on the second line between Marleau and either Marner or Nylander.
Connor Brown is a wild card when it comes to predicting the Maple Leafs lines. After scoring 20 goals and 36 points in his rookie season, Brown fell to 14 goals and 28 points last season. In both campaigns, he played the full 82 games. If Babcock wants to play Brown up the lineup, it would bump Kapanen to the fourth line. If Kapanen is on the fourth line, Babcock could still keep Johnsson on the third to spread out the speed, but he may also decide that speedy fourth line we got a glimpse of last season would be back.
Johnsson to the fourth line would also put Leivo up to the third line, or the press box, but the Maple Leafs wouldn’t do that again would they?
Lots Of Options
Johnsson could literally start next season on just about any line. Even the second line is an option if Babcock wants to try Marleau with Matthews. It depends on how good Johnsson’s off-season and training camp are. Who the Leafs pick up between now and October to play center. And if Babcock prefers to keep Kapanen and Johnsson together.
Just about the only thing we know for sure is Johnsson is ready for the challenges of the NHL.