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Detroit Red Wings prospect spotlight: Where Albert Johansson fits into team's future

General manager Steve Yzerman already has made it clear Albert Johansson will be with the Detroit Red Wings next season, adding a young defenseman to a pretty crowded field.

Johansson, 23, was part of Yzerman's first draft class in charge of the Wings, selected in the second round, at No. 60, in 2019. Having spent years developing Johansson, he's now at a point where he is no longer waiver exempt, so the Wings have to figure out what they have in him, and whether he fits into their future.

Johansson is coming off his second season with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, posting six goals and 15 assists in 66 games. He had 15 points in 53 games in 2022-23, and, in addition to producing more points in his second year, also improved his plus-minus rating to a plus-seven from a minus-seven.

Yzerman heavily scouted his first pick in the 2019 draft, Moritz Seider, but beyond the first round, GMs start relying more on area scouts. Hakan Andersson, the Wings' top scout in Sweden, said at the time of the draft that, "I had another scout come by and say (Johansson) might be the best of them all when it’s all said and done."

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Red Wings forward Albert Johansson skates with the puck against the Blackhawks' Colton Dach during the first period of preseason game on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, in Chicago.
Red Wings forward Albert Johansson skates with the puck against the Blackhawks' Colton Dach during the first period of preseason game on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, in Chicago.

Johansson (6 feet, 185 pounds) is a natural skater who makes good plays with the puck, and plays with a bit of a bite. He projects to be a steady, stay-at-home type of defenseman at the NHL level, someone who partners well with a more offensive-minded defenseman and logs time on the penalty kill.

The Wings are certain to give Johansson plenty of games during exhibition season, and play him heavy minutes, including seeing how he fares against top opposing lines. That's the benefit of preseason: Throw players into tough positions, without worrying about the score.

Johansson played two full seasons in Sweden's top hockey league with Farjestad BK, so that plus his two seasons in the AHL has him well adjusted to competing against older and more experienced players. Because that is what he faces coming to Detroit.

Defensemen under contract next season number Ben Chiarot, Jake Walman, Jeff Petry, Olli Määttä and Justin Holl; at some point, the list will grow to include Seider, who is a restricted free agent. Add Simon Edvinsson to the list, too, because he established in his late-season call-up that he is ready to be a regular in Detroit. (And, like Johansson, Edvinsson is also out of waiver exemptions.)

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T.J. Oshie (77) of the Washington Capitals and Albert Johansson #20 of the Detroit Red Wings go after the puck in the first period of a preseason game at Capital One Arena on October 05, 2022 in Washington, DC.
T.J. Oshie (77) of the Washington Capitals and Albert Johansson #20 of the Detroit Red Wings go after the puck in the first period of a preseason game at Capital One Arena on October 05, 2022 in Washington, DC.

That's seven players right there. Yzerman also responded with an enthusiastic "yes," when asked at his season-ending review about bringing back Shayne Gostisbehere, whose offensive wizardry greatly helped the Wings' scoring ability, especially on power plays. Gostisbehere is an unrestricted free agent, so to sign him would pretty much demand the Wings trade someone else.

Määtta may be the most likely candidate, given he is a steady defender with a reasonable $3 million cap hit through 2024-25. Adding Gostisbehere and subtracting someone else still would put the Wings at seven defensemen — and then there's Johansson.

It's part of the fun of camp/exhibition season: Seeing how a young player does against top competition. Johansson comes to the Wings having acquitted himself well in the AHL and in the SHL, and, depending on what the roster looks like come September, should make inroads towards being in the lineup, not just on the roster.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her @helenestjames.

Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

Feeling a draft

What: 2024 NHL draft.

When: June 28-29; Sphere, Las Vegas; ESPN.

The Wings’ top pick: No. 15, their lowest first pick since 2016 (No. 20, D Dennis Cholowski).

The top five: 1. San Jose, 2. Chicago, 3. Anaheim, 4. Montreal, 5. Columbus.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Albert Johansson could emerge as steady defender for Detroit Red Wings