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Kent Johnson is a Behind-the-Back Wizard

The Team Canada left winger and Columbus Blue Jackets rookie has been a master of the no-look feed during the world juniors.
Kent Johnson

Kent Johnson

EDMONTON - Team Canada left winger Kent Johnson has been awesome for his squad in the medal round, earning player of the game honors in the semifinal win over Czechia and dazzling on a line with Logan Stankoven (DAL) and Tyson Foerster (PHI). The Columbus Blue Jackets left winger has always been known as a high-skill guy, but what has been truly fun to watch at the world juniors is the way he effortlessly tosses out behind-the-back passes that lead to goals or great scoring chances.

Stankoven has been the recipient of most of those behind-the-back feeds, so he must be ready for them at this point, right?

"Yeah, always!" Stankoven said. "He had one in the quarterfinal game and another one in the semifinal on the power play. Yeah, I'm ready for any pucks that get thrown to me. He's a smart player with great hockey sense, so it's pretty incredible to see the passes he makes."

What's truly fun about Johnson's puck wizardry is that he is doing it during high-pressure games. Sure, Canada was heavily favored against Switzerland and Czechia in those contests, but the Czechs had already taken advantage of sloppy American puck play to get to the semis. Nevertheless, Johnson's prowess makes the move seem like a standard occurrence.

"Honestly, it's something I've been confident in for a while," Johnson said. "Those behind-the-back passes I've worked on a lot and just naturally done. It's just kind of a regular pass for me."

Johnson first came onto the radar in 2019-20, when he put up 101 points in the BCHL with the Trail Smoke Eaters. With an October birthday, the crafty operator missed the cut-off for the 2020 NHL draft, so he headed to the University of Michigan with a big challenge: Navigate the waters of NCAA hockey as a freshman while also trying to put his best foot forward for NHL scouts who were looking at him as a first-round draft pick in 2021.

Johnson succeeded in both measures, putting up 27 points in 26 games for the Wolverines, making him the team's second-highest scorer behind San Jose Sharks pick Thomas Bordeleau. Johnson's electrifying offensive work positioned him well for the draft and even though he was still a bit raw and skinny, Columbus nabbed him with the fifth pick overall.

Since then, Johnson has continued to grow as a player and after a successful sophomore campaign that saw him put up 37 points in 32 games, he joined the Blue Jackets for the end of the season, popping in three assists in nine games.

At the world juniors in Edmonton, Johnson has been increasingly dangerous, culminating in a three-point effort against Czechia in the semifinal. Heading into the gold-medal game, he was a top-10 scorer in the tournament with eight points in six games.

But finesse alone doesn't win games and the heartening thing about Johnson's line is the fact all three players have exhibited a great battle level on the ice. It's something they take pride in.

"With 'Stanko' and me being smaller guys, a lot of times people think we don't want to forecheck, so we both have that mentality to prove that wrong," Johnson said. "And obviously Foerster is a really good forechecker as a big, strong guy who is really fast. So we all want to be really hungry on the puck and get it back."

And while you might think a coach would grimace at Johnson's behind-the-back passes, that's not the case here. I asked Dave Cameron if Johnson's daring passes made him nervous and he came back with a question of his own:

"Did he make'em?" Cameron asked, knowing the answer already.

"Yep," I said.

"Then I'm happy as heck."

And if Johnson and his linemates continue to dominate in the gold-medal game, the whole team is going to be ecstatic as they celebrate another championship.

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