Panthers defenseman Magnus Defenseman spent three years in the Swedish Elite League before making the jump to the NHL. (Getty Images).
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Magnus Johannson says he doesn’t “feel like a rookie.”
That’s not surprising since the Panthers’ newest defensemen has played professional hockey for a dozen years, the previous three in the Swedish Elite League for his hometown team in Linkoping.
But this is Johannson’s first stop in the NHL. So, after a dozen years playing pro hockey – after he captained Linkoping to the finals of the Swedish championships in 2007 – Johannson is officially a 34-year-old rookie in the NHL.
Think of him like Jim Morris, who made his Major League Baseball debut at 35. Or Antoine Rigaudeau, who made his NBA debut at 31. Or Connie Madigan, who made his NHL debut in 1968 for the St. Louis Blues at the age of 38.
The difference for Johannson is he’s been plying his trade against the world’s best players for several years.
“In every World Championship there’s a lot of good games and you play against a lot of NHL players on a high level,” Johannson said.
With defensemen Noah Welch, Cory Murphy, Mike Van Ryn and Branislav Mezei all out with injuries, and with the power play struggling, GM and coach Jacques Martin acquired Johannson from the Blackhawks for a seventh-round draft pick.
Just moments before stepping on the ice Thursday for practice with the Blackhawks, Johannson was informed by Chicago GM Dale Tallon that he would be moving to the Panthers.
“I was happy,” Johannson said. “In Chicago, I had been in and out of the lineup. It was tough for me to play to my best. I know I can play better than I have lately.”
After missing a flight to Atlanta at 1:30 p.m., Thursday to meet the Panthers for their game against the Thrashers, Johannson jumped on a 2:30 p.m., flight. Slowed by rush hour traffic in Atlanta, Johannson didn’t get to the rink until 6:30. Within nine minutes of arriving, Johannson had dressed and was on the ice with the Panthers for part of their pre-game skate. By night’s end, Johannson had played 19 minutes and 24 shifts.
“He got on the ice with six minutes left (during pregame),” said Jokinen, who played against Johannson during the lockout. “I think it says something about him that he traveled all day and stepped right in. It couldn’t have been easy for him.”
Jokinen compared Johannson to injured defensemen Cory Murphy. Martin echoed those sentiments.
“I think his strength is moving the puck, finding the open man whether it’s on the breakout or the power play,” Martin added. “I think we saw some of that (Thursday), starting some attacks.”
Johannson was lured to the NHL by Tallon, who was impressed with him at the World Championships in Russia in 2006. Johannson said other NHL teams talked to him in previous years, but he wasn’t ready.
“My game developed like a late bloomer,” said Johannson, whose only trip to the U.S., prior to this season was a trip to New York in 2003. “If you go back five or six years, I don’t think I was ready to play here. I played more on the Swedish national team and it was good experience. I think that’s given me a chance to develop as a player. And I think the new rules after the lockout was good for me, too, because I’m not that physical, not that big guy. I’m more of a skater, a technical player. The game opened up a little (after the lockout) and that was good for me.”