The Buffalo Sabres made their first impact signing of the offseason when they inked Marcus Johansson to a two-year deal with a $4.5 million annual average value on Saturday afternoon. The 28-year-old forward comes over from a Stanley Cup run with the Boston Bruins this past season.
He fits the Sabres need for a middle-six forward and gives new head coach Ralph Krueger the versatility to play him at all three forward positions. Although, it should be noted that he hasn’t played center in over two years with the New Jersey Devils. However, at the very least he can play either wing without a drop off in performance.
There’s been plenty written over the last few days about his position versatility, therefore I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that. The area I’m going to focus on here is the improvement that Johansson will bring to the Sabres shooting and possession at 5 on 5.
His underlying numbers the last few years are not going to jump off the charts at you. Evolving Hockey’s RAPM model grades him out pretty average at 5 on 5 and his even-strength goals above replacement metrics haven’t been great the last two years. Prior to the concussion, he suffered in his first year with the Devils, Johansson had impressive numbers with the Capitals.
Micah McCurdy’s isolated impacts have Johansson graded out as a forward that can boost his team offensively a little above average and is an average player defensively. He also has a solid shooting percentage and penalty differential as well.
On a short-term deal, the Sabres are taking a low-risk chance on the Swedish forward bouncing back and finding some of his game from a few years ago. At the very least, it’s unlikely that Johansson will be a negative impact on the roster if he continues to play how he has the last few years.
Johansson has a few areas in his game in which he excels on the ice. On such skillset his ability to transition the puck from defense to offense. Looking at Corey Sznajder’s tracking data he excels at zone exits and entries with possession. The Sabres had only a few players on their roster that are good in transition with possession. In Jason Botterill’s last few moves he’s appeared to have focused on addressing this issue with additions of Brandon Montour, Colin Miller and now Johansson.
Another look at Marcus Johansson's fantastic pass on the first goal of last night's game pic.twitter.com/PglPPPAiCQ— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) May 10, 2019
Another area that he has good numbers in Sznajder’s data is his shot contribution to his team. Last season among players that were tracked in at least 40 minutes in time on ice, Johansson was 45th in primary shot assists at 5 on 5. What this means is he stands out at distributing the puck to his linemates that result in shots directly from his passes.
What a pass by Marcus Johansson Bruins lead 1-0 pic.twitter.com/ovC4fLyID8— DailySportsDosage (@OfficalDSD) April 26, 2019
Johansson has always had great vision on the ice and has been a great, if not elite, passer throughout his career. He was one of the best players on the Devils last season in 5 on 5 shot generation while playing with Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier primarily.
The viz below that Sean Tierney put together with Sznajder’s tracking data and Ryan Stimson’s playing styles, paints the picture of how well he grades out in these areas of shot contribution. The chart showcases his strengths in primary passing contribution, zone entries, shots, and high-danger shot assists.
Johansson fits nicely into the slot of a middle six forward that adds some playmaking ability at 5 on 5 and on the power play. It’s probably realistic to expect him to play on the wing, but can be used to protect a young center like Casey Mittelstadt with his experience. He can also be a solid playmaker and creator of shooting opportunities for a linemate that can finish like Victor Olofsson.
On the surface, this move looks like a win for Jason Botterill to improve his roster. Having said that, there’s still work to be done to get the team to be playoff caliber next season.