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What the Blue Jackets Are Getting in Kent Johnson

There was no player in the 2021 NHL draft that exemplified that video game-esque level of pure skill and fun than the Columbus Blue Jackets' fifth overall pick out of the University of Michigan. Welcome to the Kent Johnson experience.
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If you’re of a certain age demographic, you’ve probably played the NHL video game series from EA Sports. Remember when you would trade for the shifty skilled player and then dangle everyone en route to scoring what can only be described as a video game goal? 

Welcome to the Kent Johnson experience.

There was no player in the 2021 NHL draft that exemplified that video game-esque level of pure skill and fun than the Columbus Blue Jackets' fifth overall pick out of the University of Michigan. Johnson will immediately inject that impressive skill level into the Blue Jackets lineup. Johnson has the opportunity to get a taste of NHL action this season now after signing his entry-level deal, a step that will be massive for him as he looks to compete in his first full NHL season next year.

Johnson's final NCAA season may not have ended the way he wanted with a loss to Denver in the Frozen Four, but his individual success was impressive. Tying for the team lead in assists and finishing tied for fourth in team scoring despite playing in just 32 games because of a trip to Beijing for the Olympics.

As a Canadian Olympian this past February, Johnson was one of the best stories for his home nation. Working his way from the extra forward to tying for the team scoring lead through the round-robin. Johnson showed up on one of the biggest stages of international hockey and proved to be a difference-maker for a Canadian team that desperately needed one.

Playing primarily on the wing, Johnson formed one of the most entertaining and talented lines in NCAA hockey with Seattle Kraken top prospect Matthew Beniers at center and future Vegas Golden Knights sniper Brendan Brisson on the other wing. Johnson for his part was the master distributor on that line. His passing ability along with the insane puck skills gave opposing defenders nightmares.

The biggest concern with Johnson’s game seems to be his straight-line speed and pace at times. Johnson is agile and shifty, creating space with a combination of his edge work and hands but there have been times when the now-former Michigan Wolverine has found it difficult to pull away from a defender. Thankfully, Johnson’s creativity gives him options for escape routes all over the ice.

There are times when Johnson wants to slow the game down a bit and play a methodical game, exploiting defender's mistakes, which will be harder to come by at the NHL level. While this issue has improved over his two-year tenure with the Wolverines, it will likely be the biggest area that Johnson will look at in the summer once he gets that initial taste of NHL action as the Blue Jackets get him into game action as the season winds down.

Johnson's silky-smooth playmaking ability is his calling card. The former BCHL standout has the ability to read defenses and find passing lanes that most players couldn’t even identify. Passing through various levels of the defensive structure is a skill that many NHL players don’t even have the ability to do and it’s an area where Johnson excels. He consistently shows the ability to find teammates in high danger areas to generate scoring chances. Whether threading the needle to a teammate on the backdoor for a tap-in or drawing opponents in with his artistic puck-handling ability before firing a cross-ice pass for a one-timer, Johnson was often on the passing end of Michigan’s highlight reel goals this season.

While he will have to expand his goal-scoring arsenal, Johnson flashed finishing ability over his two-year NCAA career and he has scored multiple lacrosse-style goals over the years going back to his days with the Trail Smoke Eaters in the BCHL. He also exhibited a willingness to get to home plate area himself this season which wasn’t as prevalent in years past, he will just need to do it a bit more often at the next level.

Johnson is still a work in progress as a goal-scorer but with some continued physical development and an understanding that he may need to get to the gritty areas a bit more around the net, he should be enough of a scoring threat that his playmaking ability can benefit from the dual-threat ability.

At the end of the day, Johnson will have areas of his game that will need to take a couple of steps over the next couple of seasons but he also brings an incredible raw skill set and a package of tools that the Blue Jackets coaching and development staff will salivate over. Getting into a bit of game action as the year comes to an end will go a long way toward showing Johnson what he can and can’t get away with at the pro level.

With a good off-season ahead, Johnson very well could be one of the top chocies for the Calder Trophy next season. Get ready Columbus, you’re about to get the opportunity to see some video game highlights up close and personal. 

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