When the 2009 Draft is in the books and enough time has passed to judge its fruits, Sweden will ultimately go down as the country who produces the most steals. From every age group, at every position, in every league, there is a player with tantalizing potential. But there may be nonemoreso than 6'7, 220 lbs center Andreas Jönsson.
The lakeside city of Östersund is one of the most storied in Swedish sports history. Known for hosting countless national and international championships across many winter disciplines- including some events during the 2006 Olympics when the weather did not cooperate in Stockholm- the 44,000-strong city is also home to the Swedish Winter Sports Research Centre. Located at Mid Sweden University Olympic,bi-athletes and cross-country skiers for Tre Kronor both train with and help develop cutting-edge methods. In May, the Centre made headlines around the winter sports world for the discovery of a breathing regimen that markedly improved the shooting accuracy biathlon competitors. Its applications outside of athletics are obvious- police or military forces in cold-weather scenarios may one day use the program perfected inÖstersund.
But while the province of Jämtland has produced three of the biggest surprise Swedish stars of the modern era- Henrik Lundqvist, Alex Edler and Johan Franzen- for all of Östersund's success, it has yet to have a native son break into the National Hockey League.
Enter Andreas Jönsson- if you have a doorway big enough. Born in Östersund on August 28th, 1991 but raised in the nearby town of Strömsund, like those aforementioned finds before him, the hulking young man has managed to elude the attention of even the Swedish media by sticking close to home. Beginning his career first as a left wing before being converted to center this year,Jönsson posted 13 goals in 24 games for Strömsund's J18 team as a 15 year-old in 2006-07. However, knowing his path was limited if he chose to stay home, Jönsson made the best decision of career. In the fall of 2007, he tried out for the big boys, Östersund's first-tier under-18 team. Not only did he make it, but he duplicated his scoring marks of the previous year, despite playing at a higher level.
This performance earned him an opportunity to represent Jämtland province at the annual TV-Pucken, a tournament for the best U17s in Sweden. However, because of his size, Jönsson found himself converted to right defense, and played on the third and even fourth pairings throughout the tournament. His team as a whole lost or tried every game. As such, despite playing in front of the biggest crowds to date, the youngster went pointless and unnoticed.Jönsson returned home undeterred. Instead of taking the route of many other big players and staying on D, Jönsson returned to his job as a goal-scoring forward for Östersund. But 2008-09 held a new surprise and a new challenge: the first line center job.
The experiment almost ended prematurely. In the team's first two games, Östersund lost 6-2 and 14-4. Jönsson had just one point- an assist- and his faceoff percentage hovered below 30%. However, the team began to hit their stride by the third game, a tight 4-3 loss to the storied MoDo J18 squad- the factory behind the Sedins, Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund. Jönsson, too, began to find his legs- or rather arms. His faceoff percentage climbed; after going 9 for 26 in his first two, the newly-converted center won 26 of 29 over his next two.
By game five, there was no doubt Jönsson would remain in his spot. Snakebitten offensively, Jönsson jumped to the league scoring lead after netting six points (4-2-6) in one weekend. Four of them came in one game, a 5-3 victory in whichJönsson netted two goals and two primary helpers.
With the first half of the 2008-09 J18 season completed, the 2009-draft eligible forward is Östersund's leader in goals, assists, SOG and faceoff percentage. He leads all forwards in PPG (3) and PIM (10). League-wide, Jönsson sits nineteenth in points. While not impressive on the surface, that he leads his team is a good sign. As he figures out how to best use his body, points will come.