May 13th: While the Bruins have yet to officially recognize the deal, there is no longer any doubt that Johansson will not be playing in North America next year and, as it turns out, not for a while after that either. HV71 have announced that they have signed Johansson to a three-year contract, bringing back the homegrown product. The team’s general manager, Johan Hult, spoke glowingly about Johansson in the press release, applauding his balanced game, skating ability, and “incredible hunger”. These traits are part of the reason why Johansson joined the Bruins so quickly after being a seventh-round pick and the team will be sorry to lose him as a young depth option, especially for up to three years or longer. It is possible that the Bruins have already agreed to waive and terminate Johannsson, valuing his roster spot against the 50-contract limit more than loaning and retaining his rights. Either way, the 23-year-old will become an afterthought for the Bruins.
May 10th: There is a logjam on defense in Boston, but it came in handy this season. Over the course of the regular season, the Bruins used 11 different defensemen as injuries ravaged the blue line all year long. The team’s defensive leader in games played, Brandon Carlo, still missed ten games, while players who began the season as AHL afterthoughts, such as Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon, suited up for double-digit games. It was a group effort that helped the team stay afloat through adversity and certainly contributed to the Bruins currently being one of just four teams left alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This is all to say that any defenseman under contract with Boston this season who didn’t see NHL action should be re-considering his place in the organizational depth chart moving forward.
That appears to be exactly what Emil Johansson has done. Johansson, 23, was a 2014 seventh-round pick of the Bruins who impressed at the top level in Sweden and was deemed ready for pro hockey in North America sooner than expected. This season, his second full year with the Bruins organization, Johansson led all defensemen for AHL Providence in games played this season with 65, while recording ten points. Yet, he did not earn a chance to escape the minor league level. His odds are no better next season; the Bruins currently have the same top seven defensemen signed to one-way contracts through next year and Johansson would additionally be no higher than fifth among call-up options behind Clifton, Lauzon, and recent first-round picks Urho Vaakanainen, and Jakub Zboril. Johansson’s entry-level contract, which still has one year remaining, contains a European Assignment Clause, which he is reportedly expected to use in light of this situation. Henrik Leman of Swedish hockey source Rakapuckar writes that Johansson and the Bruins have a mutual agreement that he will play for HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League next season.
While Leman’s article translates to the word “release”, it is far more likely than Boston will instead loan the young defenseman to the SHL rather than terminate his contract. Especially when the team can retain Johansson’s NHL rights in perpetuity by merely making him a qualifying offer next summer, it would be a surprise to see them instead outright release him. As for next year, Leman reports that interest has been high around Johansson and he has agreed to sign with HV71 over the likes of Frolunda HC and the Vaxjo Lakers. Of course, Johansson came up through the HV71 ranks, so the decision is not much of a surprise. Johansson played two full SHL seasons with the team before making the jump to North America, recording 27 points in 99 total games, and it will likely be a seamless transition to return to their ranks. If he excels overseas, the Bruins will likely keep the door open to a return. Despite their considerable depth in talented young defensemen, Boston has to prepare for life after Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Kevan Miller, all of whom could be gone after next season. Johansson could still wind up as a possible solution down the road.