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Filip Johansson's harshest critic is himself

Wild's 2018 first-round selection is ready for a bounce back year this fall in Sweden's top league

by Jessi Pierce / Special to

ST. PAUL -- There undoubtedly comes a high amount of pressure and expectation with being a first-round pick in the NHL Draft.

A pressure to outperform and an expectation to meet the elite status of being a first rounder can be a lot to handle. Not to mention the critics and voiced opinions that encircle a player chosen with a team's highest selection -- especially in today's social media driven world.

But for Filip Johansson, selected 24th overall by the Wild in the 2018 NHL Draft, no one's harder on his play than himself.

"I think the biggest problem for me is my own expectations; sometimes they're more than I can perform and that's a bad thing," Johansson said last week at the team's development camp. "Of course it's good to want more and want to be better and work on things, but you need to have a good level on it. You need to sometimes feel good about yourself too, and not just push yourself too much. 

"I know there's expectations and stuff around with being a first-round pick, but I just try and focus on my game."

The 19-year-old defenseman didn't exactly have a prosperous 2018-19 season with Leksands IF of the Swedish Hockey League. He finished with just one goal and three assists and was a minus-10 through 47 games.

Video: Development Camp Wraps Up

"I started off the season last year pretty bad," Johansson said. "I wanted more for myself. There was a time there it was hard. We changed coaches, the team was struggling too. With the new coach (Roger Melin), I think I played better at the end of the season. 

"As I see it now after the season, I think I learned about just handling the pressure. There were expectations there (in Sweden), too. I had a good year there the year before, so I had to perform and I think I learned a lot about how to handle the pressure this time around. I improved some things in hockey too, but more around how to handle things, I think that's what I learned a lot about this year."

Beyond navigating the mounting weight of being a first-round draftee, in year two of development camp, Johansson said he has found a sense of comfort and feels better prepared coming into camp. 

Last year's whirlwind of the NHL combine, followed by the draft and then into camp left him feeling untrained and lethargic. That's not the case this year as he aims to improve in every aspect of his game, mainly adding strength to his 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame, and working to control his skating and speed. 

"He looks much better here than he did last season," said Wild director of player development Brad Bombardir. "Actually, he looks better now than he did at the end of the season in Des Moines about a month and a half ago [when he joined the Iowa Wild as a black ace during its Calder Cup playoff run]. He's been working on it a little bit.

"He puts a lot of pressure on himself. That's the kind of guy he is. He wants to do well. He wants to almost be perfect sometimes. …He wants to compete. He wants to compete hard. He wants to be quick. He wants to do the right things all the time. I think that's just the kind of person he is." 

Bombardir anticipates even better competition in Sweden this year will help push and develop Johansson. Leksands IF was promoted to the top tier in the SHL and will compete as such for the 2019-20 season. 

Video: Development Camp After Hours

"He's got another good year over there at least, and then you come over here and play a couple years, a year or two in the minors, and maybe you get your chance," Bombardir said. "But there's no timetable with him. That's the thing you can't do. When he's ready, he's ready. … I'm certainly happy with him. He's good. 

"Sometimes it's tough. For him, I don't really want him to feel the pressure. I just want him to know he's a good hockey player and that when he's out on the ice, he's a very capable player. He's one of the best puck-movers, first-pass puck movers that we've had in our organization that we've drafted, so that's his gift. And for a D-man that's one of the greatest strengths you could possibly have is your retrieval ability and your first pass ability. That's the best way to defend because you're not in your own end."

And while the pressure and expectations can feel daunting, Johansson said handling it is about getting back to the basic of the why he plays the game in the first place: for fun.

"All the guys, we play hockey because we love it," he said. "Sometimes we forget it. It's a business and we need to perform and all that stuff, but we play because it's fun. We can't forget that. That's the most important thing. Of course we need to perform and it's our job to perform, but I think you need to have fun, because if you don't have fun, you can't perform."

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