By Warren Kozireski —
There may be nothing more satisfying to a professional athlete than throwing a wrench into the plans of a coaching staff or front office and that is exactly what AHL rookie netminder Jonas Johansson has done so far this season in Rochester.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is pegged as the top goaltending prospect not just in Buffalo, but by some in the NHL after his Goaltender of the Year honors last season with Sudbury in the OHL.
Double-hip surgery this summer delayed his return to Rochester where he played in one game late last season. And Buffalo signed veteran Andrew Hammond to be a veteran in reserve for the Sabres and to mentor the younger players.
Enter Sabres 2014 fourth round draft choice Jonas Johansson.
He has seen limited AHL action in each of the last three seasons—seven, seven and five games respectively—but has little left to prove in the ECHL where he has played in 27 games in each of the last two seasons with an impressive 2.86 overall goals against average and .909 save percentage.
As of Dec. 20, the Gavle, Sweden native merely leads the entire American Hockey League in goals against with a 1.92 in 14 games while sitting third in save percentage with .935.
What do the Sabres do now?
Sending Johansson back to Cincinnati would not benefit his development at this point while Hammond needs to play to stay sharp in case he is needed in Buffalo and has also been impressive standing 8th in the AHL in GAA (2.21) and second in shutouts with four. And Luukkonen needs development at a higher level than the ECHL.
A player’s dream is to force management to make tough decisions. Johansson’s play has opened some eyes.
“We called him up a few times (last season) and I thought he did a really good job for us in the games he played and he went back to Cincinnati and I thought he continued to improve,” Rochester head coach Chris Taylor said. “That was the plan and then this year being with us fulltime I think he’s earned it.
“He had a great prospect camp, great Development Camp and then training camp I thought he played really well and now he’s a top-five goalie in the league, so that speaks volumes for him. He put the work in and didn’t pout about playing in Cincinnati and he’s improved a lot.”
“He is really athletic,” defenseman John Gilmour said about the 6’5”, 219 lb. who turned 24 years old this past September. “He’s built, he takes really good care of himself and works really hard on and off the ice.”
The secret to Johannsson establishing himself as a bona fide AHLer and NHL prospect.
“It’s more sticking to routines every day in practice that make you comfortable,” the soft-spoken Johansson said about his solid start. “I just try to support the team as much as I can and, if they feel solid with me back there, I’m happy for it.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a competition (between he and Hammond); it’s more like we’re a team within the team. We help each other out every day in practice and we’re tied together, so I’m happy for him and he’s happy for me and it benefits the team if we help each other out.
And his thoughts of having three qualified goaltenders for two roster spots in Rochester?
“Honestly I don’t try to think too much about that. I just try to come here every day and play the best hockey I can.”