Detroit Red Wings: Where does Albert Johansson figure into the equation?

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Red Wings should give Albert Johansson a look at the NHL level before the 2022-23 regular season expires, but where does he fit in beyond that?

Johansson, 22, is enjoying a solid first professional season in North America, playing for the Grand Rapid Griffins in the American Hockey League (AHL). But the 22-year-old joined Detroit’s organization having played three full seasons of professional hockey abroad in the Swedish Hockey League, which helped him acclimate fairly quickly in Grand Rapids. Sure, there is a learning curve for kids playing in North America for the first time as they modify their game from the European style of play on the larger ice surface. Johansson, a reliable defender, has performed exceptionally well, and he’s gotten better as the year has gone on.

The Detroit Red Wings selected the left-handed defender 60th overall in the second round of the 2019 NHL Entry Level Draft. As mentioned, Johansson played three years in Sweden for Farjestads BK Karlstad, totaling 15 goals, 42 assists, and 57 points over 138 games. During that span, Johansson maintained a plus-10 rating. Last year Johansson also appeared in 19 postseason games, recording two goals and eight points.

The 6-foot defender has appeared in 53 games this season with the Griffins, totaling five goals and 15 points. He’s skated to a minus-7 rating this season, but the Griffins are struggling this season primarily due to the fact the Detroit Red Wings have suffered a plethora of injuries throughout the year and continued to poach their top players.

Here’s the problem for Albert Johansson, and it’s a good one to have if you’re the Detroit Red Wings.

The organization has a surplus of established left-handed defenders that figure into Detroit’s plans next season. Jake Walman has locked up his position on the Red Wings’ top pairing playing alongside Moritz Seider. Then Detroit has Olli Maatta, Ben Chiarot, and phenom Simon Edvinsson that are all left-handed.

Chiarot has the ability to slide over to his off-hand and play the right side which helps the situation. He and Edvinsson made up Detroit’s second pairing on Thursday evening against the Carolina Hurricanes. That leaves Olli Maatta as the left-handed defender on the third pairing with a player to be determined. I can’t see the Detroit Red Wings being comfortable with starting five left-handed shot defenders for the long haul leaving Johansson’s immediate future (in Detroit) in doubt.

The Detroit Red Wings will be in the market for a reliable right-handed defender this offseason to upgrade their third pairing of Gustav Lindstrom, Robert Hagg, and Jordan Oesterle. The last two are left-handed but have both played their off-hand side at times this season. All three are pending free agents, with Oesterle and Hagg set to become unrestricted and Lindstrom restricted this summer.

My initial thought about Johansson is this.

Like every prospect, the youngster will get a fair shot to make the Red Wings out of training camp. Still, the fact that general manager Steve Yzerman gave Olli Maatta a two-year contract extension during the year suggests that Johansson is destined to remain in Grand Rapids for another season barring injuries to the Red Wings.

In my mind, Maatta is a placeholder for someone like Johansson or William Wallinder over the next year or two. I know everyone likes to hate on Chariot, and for good reason; he hasn’t performed well at all during his first season with the Red Wings, but I believe he’s viewed in higher light by the coaching staff and management than we, the fans.

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Help is on the way for the Griffins, primarily for next season, as the organization has recently signed a slew of its prospects to entry-level contracts, all beginning in 2023-24. Carter Mazur has already reported to Grand Rapids, with Johansson, Antti Tuomisto, and William Wallinder all headed to North America. Also, top prospect Marco Kasper is expected to join the Detroit Red Wings organization this summer (if not before) but may bypass the Griffins, don’t pass go, and head right to the Red Wings lineup.