July 13, 2013

Tomas Jonsson

Tomas Jonsson was quietly an excellent performer on a strong New York Islanders team. Jonsson arrived in New York as a highly touted prospect and helped the Isles win two Cups.

Jonsson was the 25th overall selection in the 1979 Entry Draft, the strongest draft in history. The agile defenseman quickly became one of the top defensemen Sweden had developed since Borje Salming. Before playing a single NHL game, Tomas was a star in Sweden

Tomas excelled in 3 World Junior Championships, including in 1977 when Sweden, who also boasted future stars like Mats Näslund, Bengt-Åke Gustafsson, Thomas Steen and Pelle Lindbergh, won the gold. He debuted in the Swedish Elite League at the early age of 17 in 1977, and by 1979 led Modo to the Swedish Championship. He also was a big part of the Swedish national team with the 1980 Olympics (winning bronze) and the 1981 Canada Cup.

Tomas stepped into the NHL in 1981-82 at the age of 21. He had a solid rookie season, scoring 9 goals and 34 points in 70 games. The Islanders won their 3rd Stanley Cup in a row that season. Coach Al Arbour was smart in bringing Tomas along slowly to not only develop him to the North American game, but the Islanders system. Tomas played in 10 playoff games to capture his first Stanley Cup ring.

Tomas played a much bigger role in 1982-83 championship season. He quietly scored 13 goals and 35 assists for 48 points in 72 regular season games, and added 2 goals and 10 assists for 12 points in 20 playoff games.

Tomas would consistently score at that clip for the remainder of his NHL days. Over the next three seasons he scored 11, 16 and 14 goals respectively with 47, 50 and 44 points. Tomas had an injury shortened 47 game season in 1986-87, but still posted 6 goals and 31 points. He returned to his normal 47 point season 1987-88. However Tomas and the Islanders would gradually slip from Stanley Cup dynasty to a middle of the pack team as the key players aged. Its too bad Tomas wasn't able to step onto Long Island a couple of years earlier because then he would have won 4 Cups and would have been considered a more important part of that dynasty.

Lat in the 1988-89 season the Isles trade Jonsson to the Edmonton Oilers, who were long time admirers of Jonsson. His style of play was a perfect fit for the Oil's system, and it was hoped he would make a late season impact on the northern Albertan team. He put up 11 points in 20 regular season games and added 2 power play goals in 4 playoff games.

The Oilers only had to trade future considerations to the Isles in order to get Jonsson. That may seem like a really low price to pay for such a talented defenseman, but the fact of the matter was that it was no big secret that his contract was up at season's end and Tomas desired to return to Sweden so that his children could attend Swedish schools. He did return and played throughout the entire 1990s, until the age of 38. He didn't just play, he dominated. In 1995, at the age of 35, he was named as the Swedish Player of the Year. He was also part of the 1994 Gold medal winning Olympic team.

A powerful skater with great first-step acceleration, Tomas relied on his speed and his intelligence to excel in the NHL. He also possessed a great slap shot which was a huge asset to the Islanders power play, although he didn't use it nearly enough. His upbringing in European hockey taught him to be unselfish almost to a fault. Jonsson always preferred to make the perfect pass to the open man for that picture perfect goal. Then again, with his line mates on the Isles power play, who could blame him for wanting to pass the puck around!. Not only did they have Jonsson and Denis Potvin on the points, but they could throw out great playmaker and shooter Bryan Trottier with a behemoth like Clark Gillies in front of the net and of course Mike Bossy, perhaps the best shooter of all time, on the right side.

Jonsson had great balance on his skates which enabled him to compete in the physical NHL, although that aspect of his game was always his weakness. Standing just 5'10" and 185 lbs, Jonsson had trouble with many of the league's bigger and more physical players. He relied more on a strong defensive partner to do that dirty work, or would run simple interference in order to slow down an oncoming forward.

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