Franzen wasn't handed a roster spot at his first training camp. He wasn't given power-play time his first season in the NHL and he wasn't looked at as a scorer.
Today, howeve, Johan Franzen is the left side of the Red Wings' top line, playing alongside Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom. He's also the team's leading scorer after one preseason game with two goals and one assist.
"I've always been a guy who wants to help back checking and sees dangerous plays," said Franzen. "I've always had that in me. When I was young, I was better than the others guys, so I scored a lot. When I came to the better leagues, it wasn't easy to score any more."
Franzen wasn't just a good scorer in his youth. His was a prodigy.
At the age of 14, Franzen played for his hometown's under-16 team, the junior team and the senior team, meaning that he was in the fourth division of Swedish professional hockey when most American kids are freshmen in high school.
"In his area where he grew up in southern Sweden, he was a youth star," said Hakan Andersson, director of European scouting for the Red Wings. "They had him in playing against men as a young kid. From what I understand, he was maybe their best player. A guy who helps me look for players said that Franzen was a star on that team when he was 15."
But a funny thing happened on Franzen's way to the Montreal Forum. When he reached the Elite League -- Sweden's top pro circuit -- Franzen played for a Linkoping team that was constantly fighting to avoid relegation down to a lower-level league.
Franzen spent large chunks of his ice time in his defensive zone on a team that was overmatched night-in and night-out.
Johan Franzen was soon lost in the shuffle of scouts' reports.
When Andersson and Detroit general manager Ken Holland scouted on of Franzen's games, they were disappointed to see the big center immediately racing back to bolster the defense once the puck was dropped.
"We said to Johan, 'We know you have a lot of offense in you'," said Andersson. "'At least fight for the puck in the faceoff before you go back. But if you win it, try to do something with it.'"
The Red Wings scouted Franzen for one season when he was 23, but decided against taking him with one of their eight draft picks. After another season of scouting, the Red Wings selected Franzen in the third round of the 2004 draft, making him six years senior the vast majority of his draft peers.
Andersson called Franzen: "You've just been drafted by the Detroit Red Wings. How do you feel about that?"
Thinking back to that moment of three years past, Franzen smiled. His answer to Andersson was understated in classic Franzen stye.
As a rookie in the fall of 2005, Franzen made the Red Wings out of training camp when Grand Rapids was the more likely destination.
Dubbed "Mule" by Steve Yzerman at that camp because of his ornery play along the boards, Franzen drew attention as one of the Red Wings' top penalty killers soon after the regular season started.
Franzen's play warranted more ice time as the season went along. In his second season with Detroit, Franzen's ice time went from 12:27 per game to 15:35. He also got 85:10 of power-play time as a sophomore.
Now heading into his third NHL season, Franzen is slated for the top line.
"When we had our meetings about the draft and I had him on my list, I said, 'Obviously, we're looking at 18-year-old players here and he was 24'," said Andersson. "He's better than a lot of the other guys, but there's less to come. An 18-year-old has potential, but Johan Franzen was already there. What you see is what you get. You're getting a strong guy who plays the game well, takes care defensively. At the worst, he's a third-, fourth-liner. At the worst. With a little luck, he'll develop some of his offensive skills and we'll get a better player than we thought.'"