Andreas Johnsson proved hard work and patience pays off.
Though many expected Johnsson (5-foot-10, 181 pounds) to be a work in progress upon being selected in the seventh round (No. 202) of the 2013 NHL Draft, the bigger question was how much of an impact the rookie forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs would have whenever he discovered traction and confidence as a professional.
Evidently, more than expected. Johnsson played most of the season in a top-six role on a team loaded with offensive talent.
"It's been a little bit of a roller coaster because I was scratched a lot in the first half of the season and had to work on my game," Johnsson said. "I feel like I've found my game now and have started to put up some points."
He's hoping to continue his offensive production in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Maple Leafs play the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference First Round. Game 1 is at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVAS).
Johnsson, who ranked fourth among NHL rookies with 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 73 games, made a significant turnaround after being a healthy scratch for five of the first 11 games of the season.
"After a slow start, I've really liked the competitiveness, the quick twitch," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "He's got a good hockey mind and knows what's going on. He's brave. He gets to the areas to score and he competes with and without the puck ... he's a good hockey player."
Johnsson began the season in a bottom-six role and had three points (two goals, one assist) and 28 shots on goal in his first 18 NHL games. He had 40 points (18 goals, 22 assists) and 102 shots on goal in his last 55 regular-season games. The boost in production can be pointed to a growing confidence and having a chance to play beside John Tavares and Auston Matthews.
Video: CHI@TOR: Johnsson puts Maple Leafs on the board
"They're just so competitive, they want to win every battle, so to play with them, you want to work hard and make them happy," Johnsson said. "Another great thing about them is how they can protect the puck. They're able to get away in the small areas of the ice and create time for themselves and teammates."
Johnsson fits right in with his tenacious demeanor and work ethic. He had 60 hits and 36 blocked shots, and the Maple Leafs controlled 53.75 of all shots attempted when he was on the ice.
"When my game is at its best, I'm aggressive, I make fast decisions with and without the puck," Johnsson said. "Especially on the forecheck. I like to win pucks back and usually that's when I create my most dangerous opportunities."
Johnsson has even received time on the second power-play unit with forwards William Nylander, Patrick Marleau, Kasperi Kapanen, Tyler Ennis and defenseman Jake Gardiner.
"I think he's so quick on the forecheck, quick to holes," Marleau said of Johnsson, who had six points (three goals, three assists) on the power play. "He plays really hard and has skill, so he's been good wherever he's played."
At the time Johnsson was selected in the draft, he was No. 33 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of International skaters with high praise for his work ethic and playmaking ability. Goran Stubb, the NHL director of European Scouting, said at the time Johnsson had a good chance of playing in the NHL with the proper development.
The Maple Leafs provided just that.
After his draft, Johnsson spent three more seasons with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League and was named SHL Rookie of the Year in April 2014, earning the honor over notable players like forwards Alexander Wennberg (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Kevin Fiala (Minnesota Wild). He won an SHL championship with Frolunda in 2015-16, before joining Toronto of the American Hockey League the following season.
Video: EDM@TOR: Johnsson pots PPG for his second of the game
"The SHL prepared me a lot; obviously the skill is better here but in the SHL you play against men and it's very structured," Johnsson said. "You learn about defensive play and how to stay patient. It helps against older players and you get your body used to that with getting hit and playing a fast tempo."
Johnsson played two seasons in the AHL, scoring 47 points (20 goals, 27 assists) in 2016-17 and 54 points (26 goals, 28 assists) in 54 games last season. He helped Toronto win the 2018 Calder Cup with 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists) in 16 games, earning the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as AHL playoff most valuable player.
He accepted a qualifying offer with the Maple Leafs as a restricted free agent July 13, 2018, signing a one-year, two-way contract with an NHL salary-cap charge of $787,500, setting the stage for his breakout rookie campaign.
"I'm trying to get better and stay at my level and right now I feel like I found that and want to stay on that road," Johnsson said.