When goalie prospect Jonas Johansson’s first stint in the NHL ended earlier this month, the Buffalo Sabres offered him some normal advice and encouragement before he returned to the Rochester Americans of the AHL.
The organization’s goalie coaches gave the Swede technical tips, according to Americans General Manager Randy Sexton. The Sabres also told him not to feel satisfied after playing six big-league games.
“Put in the time and continue to make big progress,” Sexton said they told him, noting why Johansson, 24, should feel so good about his first recall. “You’ve earned this. This wasn’t something we did just because you’re Swedish or you’re a good guy. You earned it.”
The affable Johansson, an unheralded prospect before this season, said those words meant “a lot” to him. Little was expected from him – at least outside of the organization – before his third season in North America.
Johansson had spent most of his career in the ECHL, making only 19 appearances in the American Hockey League. Last year, he underwent season-ending knee surgery with the Cincinnati Cyclones.
But this season, Johansson said, “Everything kind of fell together.” The Amerks roared out of the gate, staying in first place for nearly three months. He meshed well with Andrew Hammond, his veteran goalie partner.
Johansson quickly established himself as a notable prospect, winning 11 of his first 16 games. He rattled off nine consecutive victories in November and December.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen, I was just trying to focus on my game,” Johansson said recently.
On Jan. 29, the Sabres summoned Johansson, an AHL All-Star, when starting goalie Linus Ullmark suffered a lower-body injury.
“It was – I don’t know – a good surprise, I guess, and a good sign hard work pays off,” Johansson said of reaching the NHL.
The 6-foot-5, 219-pound Johansson performed well at times, compiling a 1-3-1 record with a 2.94 goals-against average and an .894 save percentage.
“It felt like I could handle the pace,” Johansson said of the NHL. “I mean, that was good to feel, too. I got a lot of stuff to improve, but I feel like I can handle it.”
Now, having reached the NHL, Johansson said, “It’s nice to have a little goal.”
His time in Buffalo helped him develop “a picture” of what it takes to excel at that level, he said.
“It’s great to have that, to know that, how good they are,” he said.
Sexton said of Johansson’s stint in Buffalo: “There were no major steps backward.”
Johansson played two games before the AHL suspended its season indefinitely last Thursday because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He looked sharp in his first outing March 7, making 24 saves in a 4-2 road win over the Belleville Senators. In a 5-2 loss on March 11 to Binghamton, the Devils broke open a tie game by scoring twice on six shots in the third period.
“In tight games like this, I got to come up with saves on those two goals in the third period,” Johansson said.
Win or lose, Johansson always seems to be smiling. Staying even-keeled is important to him.
“I feel like that’s how it needs to be here,” he said. “You can’t be too high or too low, because then you’re screwed. I mean, you can’t beat yourself up too much if you’re playing bad and not being too confident, too happy. You just got to stay at the even level and do that every day for eight months. That’s how you be successful.”
That’s why Johansson did not experience a letdown when he returned to the Amerks.
“It’s a sign of his maturity,” Sexton said. “He got a taste of what the NHL is like. He came back, because of his maturity, he understands the things he needs to work on and it’s just another day at work for Jonas. It was great he got a taste of what it’s like.
“He had some success, not as much as he or we would’ve liked, but certainly better than lots of people would’ve predicted 12 or 18 months ago, so good for him. That’s what he’s done. He’s come back, smile on his face, ready to go to work.”