Jonas Johansson admits his journey to the NHL has felt, at times, like a rollercoaster.
Johansson was drafted by the Sabres in the third round in 2014. He spent the next three seasons in Sweden, playing primarily in the country's second-tier pro league, HockeyAllsvenskan. The majority of his last two seasons were spent with Buffalo's ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones.
Last February, he had season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus. The NHL was always his goal, and he credits his family as well as Sabres development coach Seamus Kotyk with helping him ride the ups and downs. It wasn't always easy.
"There were times, for sure, when I was in Cincinnati when you're really wondering if it's ever going to happen," Johansson said after practice Wednesday. "But like I said, you've just got to keep on going. Keep good habits and work hard and hopefully they're going to pay off one day."
Video: SABRES IN :50 (2/5/20)
That long journey was part of the reason why Johansson, despite difficult circumstances, was able to enjoy his NHL debut on Tuesday night. He entered the game against Colorado in relief of Carter Hutton with the Sabres trailing 5-1 in the second period. The first shot he faced was a perfectly placed attempt from Mikko Rantanen on 2-on-1 rush that went in off the crossbar.
After that, Johansson recovered to stop Colorado's final 13 shots. Coach Ralph Krueger said the rookie will make his first start for Buffalo in one of the team's upcoming back-to-back games, at home against Detroit on Thursday or in New York against the Rangers on Friday.
"Coming in there in the second period when he did and us down 5-1, it was a situation where we all felt that that could go either way," Krueger said. "It could have gone rough for him or it was an opportunity for him to get some confidence.
"We feel the way it evolved and the way he put away that first goal, the sixth against, and then finished out the game was really solid. We liked the way he positioned himself, the way he played with the puck and involved himself in the game and it was definitely a good sign for us as a club moving forward."
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Krueger
Johansson, who split the net with veteran Andrew Hammond in Rochester during the first half of this season, said he prepares for games he backs up exactly as he would if he was starting. He got some brief words of encouragement from Hutton, worked through some early nerves, and said he felt more comfortable as the game wore on.
Asked if he feels any nerves with his first NHL start now on the horizon, he opted for another descriptor.
"There's some excitement, for sure," he said. "It would be really awesome to play some more up here. I feel prepared and I feel confident, so I'm just feeling ready and prepared if the opportunity comes."
Johan Larsson was back on the ice with the Sabres after missing Tuesday's game with a lower-body injury. Krueger expressed optimism that the centerman will be ready to play against Detroit Thursday.
"He's looking really good," Krueger said. "I have to say, he felt good today in the skate. Larsson feels like a go right now. We'll confirm that tomorrow morning, but we were pleased with the skate today and that'd be real good news for us to at least get one of the centermen back."
Rasmus Dahlin (upper body) was on the ice ahead of practice but left before the session began. Curtis Lazar remained absent with an illness. Both are considered day-to-day.
"We'll keep monitoring it," Krueger said regarding Dahlin's injury. "He's questionable for tomorrow against Detroit, but it's definitely not a long-term injury."
The Sabres also issued updates on Kyle Okposo (upper body), Victor Olofsson (lower body), and Linus Ullmark (lower body), all of whom are now considered week-to-week. Find the full updated injury report in the tweet below:
Here's how the Sabres lined up at practice.
13 Jimmy Vesey - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 74 Rasmus Asplund
43 Conor Sheary - 90 Marcus Johansson - 67 Michael Frolik
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 15 Jean-Sebastien Dea
62 Brandon Montour - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
19 Jake McCabe - 10 Henri Jokiharju
24 Lawrence Pilut - 4 Zach Bogosian / 33 Colin Miller
40 Carter Hutton
34 Jonas Johansson