Albert Johansson’s fight for a place on the Detroit Red Wings roster

Albert "Under the Radar" Johansson is still on track to be a top four defenseman in the NHL. The major question is whether it will be with the Red Wings or elsewhere.

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The lack of movement at the trade deadline shows GM Steve Yzerman's long-term confidence in the Detroit Red Wings prospect pool. Jonatan Berggren’s call-up to the Red Wings is overdue from his perspective and will hopefully provide a needed boost from the Red Wings’ point of view. There is another prospect who is slightly overripe in development, but no one is discussing him as a trade target or clamoring for him to be in Detroit anytime soon. Where does Albert Johansson fit into the team’s plans?

Simon Edvinsson will almost certainly be on the Detroit roster on opening day for 2024-2025 at the latest. Axel Sandin-Pellika is destined to be a star but is a couple of years away from the big team. Several blue line prospects may or may not become NHL players. This group includes William Willander, Antti Tuoumistu, Eemil Viro, and Shai Buium.

Where Albert Johansson fits into the Red Wings' plans is not clear.

Johansson is 23 years old. Although defensemen can take longer to develop than forwards, Adam Boqvist, Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Sandin, and Cam York are also 23 years old and are well-established in the NHL. When Johansson was drafted in the second round in 2019, he was considered mature, solid, smart, a good decision-maker, and generally more pro-ready than most draftees. There have been some injuries that have sidelined Johansson at exactly the times that he seemed to be reaching a new level. He is still ripening in the AHL with Grand Rapids.

There have not been major complaints or words of disappointment about his development. He is always a solid and valuable under-the-radar player. “Under the radar” is associated with Johansson so often that it could be his middle name. His development is consistent and professional. To a large degree, Johansson is a bit like Olli Määttä—smart, steady, and low maintenance. Yet, there is far more expected in terms of talent and offensive upside. Moreover, he tends to control games with his decision-making, strong puck skills, and calm under pressure.

Being solid and responsible are excellent characteristics, but typically are more for a third pairing defenseman. To get attention and ensure time on the NHL, there needs to be something dynamics about his game that stands out to attract attention. If there is nothing that stands out, then he will be viewed as a replacement level player and those are inexpensive and easy to find.

For this year, there were three areas targeted for Johansson’s improvement. Increased physicality, taking more offensive initiative, and getting his shot through from the point. Although not the biggest defenseman, Johansson has been effective in physically disrupting cycles deep in his end. He is beginning to develop into a decent open-ice hitter. He is not a junior Niklas Kronwall, but the physical part of his game is developing well. He is not at all shy about hitting. Johansson is not a major points producer but a strong playmaker who sees the ice well. This year, he has driven to the goal more often and demonstrated offensive skills that he may not have been confident enough to display in the past. He has never been reluctant to use his shot, but his accuracy has improved. He is getting the shot past the forwards and creating scoring danger with accurate shots that can be deflected with increasing regularity. Johansson has dramatically improved in all three areas. Again, progress.

There are still some questions about whether Johansson will be a major contributor to this Red Wings' team. There are solid, experienced defensemen ahead of him on the depth chart who have contracts with term. Simon Edvinsson is likely to be in Detroit in the fall. And it is a major challenge to have two rookies on the blue line for a team with playoff aspirations. Steve Yzerman is the type of GM who keeps his plans to himself. Keeping Johansson as a stealth prospect may be the exact plan for bringing him to Detroit sometime in 2024-2025.

I have no doubt that Albert Johansson is an NHL-ready defenseman. I am also sure he will be a top-four defenseman. Yet, I have some doubts that he fits in with the Red Wings’ plans for the future. The team has not made it easy for him to progress. Johansson has not broken the door down, making it impossible to keep him out of the Red Wings lineup. Yet, he has improved so much over the years, all while flying under the radar.