Johan Sodergran Ontario Reign

After missing most of last season with a back injury, Johan Sodergran will look to carve out a role with the Ontario Reign.

As we inch closer to training camp, another young forward is looking to make some noise in the LA Kings organization: Swedish forward Johan Sodergran.

The 6-foot-3 winger has played one season so far in the AHL for the Ontario Reign; that coming in the 2019-20 season where he registered two goals and seven points in 48 games. He was likely in line to be back with the team for the start of the 2020 season, but with the pandemic, he stayed in Sweden and was loaned to Almtuna IS of HockeyAllsvenskan. After collecting three points in 12 games, his season was cut short by a back injury, which ultimately required surgery.

Sodergran was a participant at Development Camp and, along with the likes of Alex Turcotte, Tyler Madden, and others, is looking forward to a healthy campaign ahead. Right now, it’s tough to see where he may fit in the lineup, given the current logjam. He is a winger who will shoot the puck from anywhere, so that is certainly something the Kings’ organization could use depth in.

The Stockholm, Sweden native was drafted in the 6th round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft by the Kings. He had a strong showing in the 2017-18 season in the J20 SuperElit, Sweden’s top Junior league, scoring 17 goals and 33 points in 37 games. He did play 20 games in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) that season but did not register a point.

The following season, however, Sodergran did have some success in the SHL. His 8 goals and 13 points in 42 games had him above average in points-per-game. As a 19-year-old in the SHL, that isn’t anything.

So what type of player do the Reign potentially have coming to their lineup this season?

As mentioned, he is a good-sized winger who loves to shoot the puck. For a little more insight, we checked in with NHL and SHL writer Sixten Funqvist:

Johan is quite physical,” he said. “He’s strong along the boards and doesn’t hesitate to use his size to his advantage. He has a decent shot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d worked on it a bit more.”

As we take a look back to his junior days, it’s not hard to see what made him an NHL prospect. This is a must-watch shift from Sodergran in his 2017-18 year playing for Linkoping HC Jr. of the J20 SuperElit.

He starts the shift with a shot from the high slot, but it is a joy to watch the rest of it. After his shot is stopped, the defenseman picks the puck up and wheels the net. Sodergran is relentless on the backcheck, and this pressure helps create a turnover, to which he gains possession and begins the regroup in the neutral zone.

As the puck goes back into the offensive zone, he’s first-in on the forecheck, causing yet another turnover. The puck then gets to his left-defenseman, and he wastes no time darting to the slot area and beats his man to put home the rebound. This is the type of shift that will get a coach’s attention and, at the time, surely some scouts.

Two shots on goal, two turnovers created, one hit, and a goal. Not bad for 30 seconds.

This next video shows an assist and then a goal for Sodergran. The intent of these isn’t just to show he could get points in a junior league. It’s about how he goes about playing his game and what makes him an NHL prospect.

In the first part of the video, he collects the puck in the neutral zone. He takes advantage of the opposing left defenseman’s gap and gains the zone with possession in a 2-on-2 situation. From here, what he does is a little thing, but it is a smart hockey play that leads to a goal. He dishes the puck to his teammate and darts to the net. Important to see here that he doesn’t take a circuitous route to the net.

He splits the two defensemen to force them into a decision. By doing this, it buys his teammate an extra half-second. Sodergran makes himself available to receive a pass, and the patience he shows to complete the give-and-go is very impressive. High skill and high smarts therefrom Sodergran.

The goal in that video shows what he’s about. He collects the puck in the high slot area with soft hands, clean enough to elude the defenseman, and beat the goaltender to the short-side with a wrist shot.

While these clips are a few years old from his junior days, I think they do a good job of illustrating why he was an NHL draft pick. Among the things mentioned, I’ll add another: he’s not a winger that will live on the perimeter. He is more than willing to go to the middle of the ice, the slot area, and use his size to win battles.

However, it’s worth mentioning; this has not yet translated to the North American game.

“While I think he made the jump to North America early,” added Sundqvist. “He felt it was the right move. If he can play the whole season and really do it on his terms without anything hemming him, I think he can be a name for the NHL roster for 22-23.”

I think he is a bit unlucky with the way the timing of everything worked out. His first year in North America was sure to be an adjustment, understandably so. I’d have loved to see him follow that up with a second full year in the AHL, but with the pandemic and then an injury, it wasn’t meant to be.

The injury is the other unfortunate part of all of this. Not only was he not able to continue his adjustment from overseas, but he was only able to play a dozen games before injuring his back. He’ll now have to continue his development at the pro level recovering from a back injury in a roster with immense competition.

Sodergran will be a fun player to watch develop and see how he is adjusting in what will be the final year of his entry-level contract. The tools that made him an NHL prospect are there. The climb may be uphill with the Reign, but if healthy, he can wedge his way into the conversation.

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