Marcus Johansson trains with Wild players Jonas Brodin and Joel Eriksson Ek when they are home in Karlstad, Sweden, for the summers.
“I’ve known them for quite a while now,” Johansson said. “Two very good guys and two good friends.”
Johansson is about to see quite a bit more of his buddies.
The Wild acquired Johansson on Wednesday from Buffalo in exchange for veteran Eric Staal, a switch that’ll feature some familiar faces while Johansson continues a position change.
“I’m very happy to play with them,” Johansson said Thursday on a video conference call from Sweden, referring to his pals Brodin and Eriksson Ek. “It’s fun to have someone that you know that plays for the team and can tell you what you need to know. They only have good things to say about the city and the organization. It’s just very, very nice to be able to hear that.”
Not only does Johansson know Brodin and Eriksson Ek, but he’s also worked with coach Dean Evason when their careers overlapped in Washington.
Evason was an assistant when Johansson broke into the league with the Capitals in 2010 after getting drafted by them a year earlier 24th overall.
“We had a great relationship,” Johansson said. “I liked him a lot. I think he’s a really good coach. I have great memories from him just being an all-around good guy. I’m sure it’s different being a head coach than being an assistant coach. Just a great guy. I’m looking forward to playing for him again.”
Back then, Johansson was debuting as a center — the position he grew up playing — and that’s the spot the Wild has tabbed him for despite the 29-year-old logging the bulk of his 10 NHL seasons at wing.
Last season with the Sabres, he was cast as the team’s No. 2 center behind Jack Eichel and although his output isn’t reflective of a smooth transition (just nine goals and 21 assists in 60 games), he started getting reacquainted with the responsibilities and felt more and more comfortable.
“It’s a different role,” Johansson said. “It’s more defensive work, I’d say, in some ways. I’ve been a winger for basically the last seven years before last year. It’s two very different positions. I think as a centerman you have the puck a lot and kind of get involved in the play more than you are as a winger.
“It’s also you kind of spend more energy in your own end and work in your own end than you do as a winger. That kind of plays in with production and things like that at times.”
Johansson likes lining up at center, and him getting more involved could showcase the skills that appealed to the Wild — his playmaking style and speed. He has one season remaining on a two-year, $9 million contract before he’ll become an unrestricted free agent.
“Hopefully help the team wherever they need me, if it’s on the power play or defensively,” said Johansson, who will wear his usual No. 90 with the Wild. “I like to become a good two-way centerman. When you play center, that’s a big part of it and just help the team wherever it needs me.
“I have been around for a while now and hopefully help out some younger guys and just hopefully get a big role and fill that role well.”
When next season returns and Johansson joins the Wild, it’ll be his first game action since March. Buffalo didn’t qualify for the NHL’s postseason tournament and has been idle since the regular season was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic on March 12.
Although he hasn’t figured out when he, his wife. Amelia, and two daughters will arrive in the Twin Cities, Johansson is eager for the move.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I can’t wait to get to Minnesota.”