Report: Leafs eyeing JVR replacement already?

“He’s got the elite speed, elite hands, elite mind for the game,” reports one teammate.

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As we draw closer and closer to the NHL’s February 26th trade deadline, the trade rumour hot stove continues to heat up. The heat is on Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello to make a move that will improve his team’s playoff chances later this spring, but at the same time he has a huge decision to make on the future of Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk. The 28-year-old power forward is set to become an unrestricted free-agent this upcoming offseason and, unless the Leafs trade him before Monday’s deadline, they’ll stand to lose his services for nothing. The dilemma facing Lamoriello, quite simply, is: trade JVR and lose him for the playoffs or keep JVR and lose him for nothing in the offseason. Tough call.

It’s a tough decision and one that won’t be made without serious consideration. Fortunately, the Leafs have options when it comes to replacing JVR’s spot in the lineup. 

In his latest Quick Shifts column for Sportsnet, NHL analyst Luke Fox caught up with Leafs rookie Travis Demott to get his opinion on which Toronto Marlies teammate could successfully step into JVR’s role if given the chance. His answer: Andreas Johnsson. The AHL sophomore has been on absolute fire lately, ratting off 22 goals and 42 points in 44 games. He’s the Marlies’ leading scoring and is taking a healthy run at the league scoring title, as well.

“That’s a guy who could easily transfer into the NHL. He’s got the elite speed, elite hands, elite mind for the game. If he got thrown into a couple NHL games,” Dermott said, “he’d excel if not do just fine.”

Make no mistake, the 23-year-old Johnsson is not your average prospect. The former 7th round pick has been playing pro hockey in Sweden and the AHL for five seasons now. He’s not just some fresh faced kid off the street. He has experience and he’s proven that he can play a reliable, two-way game.

“He’s a guy you can rely on every time,” says Dermott. “If you’re breaking the puck out, you’re thinking, ‘If I can just get it to this guy, it’s going to get out.’ Or if you’re on a long shift and you really need to get it out of the zone, he’s the guy you look to.”

Sounds like a Mike Babcock type player if there ever was one. Could this kid be the key to a JVR trade? On the flip side, would he soften the blow if JVR decides to walk in free-agency?