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Johansson doing just fine moving at his own pace

Friday, 06.05.2009 / 9:00 AM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

Slow and steady has won the race many times before, much to Marcus Johansson's relief.

In fact, the Swedish forward should look no further than his favorite player -- Detroit forward Henrik Zetterberg -- to see that it's not always the boldest teenage name that becomes the biggest hockey star.

Zetterberg was selected No. 210 in the 1999 Entry Draft, behind virtually every Swedish player in the draft, including Mattias Weinhandl, Johan Asplund and Jimmie Olvestad. Yet, a decade later, it is Zetterberg that sits atop the NHL heap as the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy holder.

In fact, you can argue Zetterberg is bigger than Daniel and Henrik Sedin combined, the Swedish twins selected Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in that draft. And the reason is Zetterberg's amazing conglomeration of skills came to the fore as the one-dimensional brightness of other players faded.

Such a future could await Johansson, who will go much earlier in the 2009 Entry Draft than Zetterberg went 10 years earlier.

Johansson rarely may produce jaw-dropping moments, but usually he emerges among the best players every time he takes the ice for his Swedish Elite League team, Farjestads. At least that is the opinion of NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb.

"There's no real strong points to his game, but no weak points, either," Stubb told NHL.com. "He plays a very mature game. He's a very, very good two-way centerman."

It was the maturity and completeness of Zetterberg's game that drew Detroit scout Hakan Andersson to Zetterberg in the first place, despite the fact Andersson had nothing flashy to point to in his recommendation to his bosses.

So clearly people can see the solid underpinnings that are the foundation of Johansson's game.

And how does Johansson see that game taking shape?

"I like to play with the puck," he told NHL.com. "I like to bring the puck from my own end to the offensive end. I think I'm a little more a passer than a shooter. I want to set up my teammates so they can score goals. Of course I want to score goals myself, but I think I am more of a passer than a shooter."

Johannson passed and shot well enough to total 5 goals and 10 points in 45 games in the Swedish Elite League, and 2 goals in six games for Sweden at the 2009 World Junior Championship.

Yet he is not good enough to be considered the best draft-eligible center in Sweden.

That honor goes to Jacob Josefson, the No. 3 European prospect according to NHL Central Scouting's final rankings; Johansson is No. 8.

Stubb says Johansson's position on the draft board is spot-on.

"He doesn't have the same skills, the same understanding of the game (as Josefson), but this is a guy who makes all the small things right. His passing; he usually comes out a winner in the corners along the boards, so he has good hands; he sees the ice very well and works hard."

Sounds just like the Zetterberg of today, doesn't it? That's a comparison that blows Johansson's mind any time it's uttered.

"I like to compare myself to Henrik Zetterberg, but that is a big player," Johansson said. "But some people back home compare me to him and I want to play like Henrik Zetterberg. He's a big (star).

"There's no real strong points to his game, but no weak points, either. He plays a very mature game. He's a very, very good two-way centerman."
-- Goran Stubb

"He's always been an idol and of course people can say what they think, but of course it feels good."

How could it not feel good? This was a player that wasn't even supposed to be in the SEL this season. In fact, Johansson sometimes has trouble figuring out how he became an Elitserien regular so soon.

"In some exhibition games in the beginning of the season they needed some players and I got a chance and then they wanted me to stay there," he said. "It's fun. That's what you want to do when you play hockey, play with the big guys."

Johansson's SEL numbers don't tell the whole story. If you want scoring, consider the 10 points he put up during a five-game demotion to Skare in Division 1.

So did he ever feel lost in his first go-round with the big boys of the Elitserien?

"I don't think so," he said. "It went pretty well. The coach was happy and that is why I got to stay on the team. So I don't think I was lost.

"Coming from the junior team, they are always one step ahead, thinking the game and the passes and everything. It's a big jump. Of course, the strength is a big difference, too."

NHL Scouting Combine GearNot only did the 18-year-old Johansson have a skill set to cope with the situation he faced with Farjestads this season, he also had a secret weapon. Johansson's older brother Martin, 21, has spent parts of the past three seasons with the team. That brotherly bond, as well as overall team chemistry, carried the day.

"(Farjestads) is taking good care of me," Johansson said. "Everybody talks to everybody … Everybody on that team is a good guy."

Johansson is enjoying his time in Farjestads so much that he has no problem staying in Sweden for a few more seasons after he is selected in June, likely in the first two rounds of the draft.

"It would be good to have a little more experience back home in the big league and get a couple of years there and grow as a player, and then maybe move over and get a better chance here."

That's fine; after all, slow and steady usually wins the race.

Contact Shawn Roarke at sroarke@nhl.com