In our latest summer series, myself and my THW colleagues have written about new Chicago Blackhawks Andreas Athanasiou, Petr Mrazek, Colin Blackwell and Max Domi. Each of these players have their own assets to bring to the table, and something to offer this rebuilding team. As we continue to meet the new Blackhawks, today we will discuss the addition of veteran defenseman, and latest recipient of the Stanley Cup, Jack Johnson.
Blackhawks Sign Yet Another Defenseman
The Blackhawks inked Johnson a little bit later in the free agency period, on Aug. 17. The two parties agreed to a one-year contract with a $950,00 cap hit. Said Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson of the deal,
Jack provides the team with a strong veteran presence, good size and a competitive edge. We’re excited to have Jack join the organization and, coming off a Stanley Cup championship last year, he will strengthen our defensive group.
It’s true the 35-year-old earned a Cup with the Avalanche. The 16-year veteran has paid his dues in the NHL, and it finally culminated in the ultimate prize. He made sure not to let it go to waste, by celebrating with an ice cream party and even a special baptism ceremony. But many are scratching their heads at this particular signing, as the Blackhawks already have a plethora of defensemen to work with, and numerous prospects waiting in the wings.
So how could Johnson fit in with the rebuilding Blackhawks? Let’s delve into his background to find a better answer to that question.
Johnson Brings an Extensive History
The Indianapolis, Indiana native was selected third overall by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2005 NHL Draft. He broke into the NHL in the 2006-07 season, playing five games with the Los Angeles Kings after his rights were traded by the Hurricanes. Johnson suited up for five more seasons with the Kings; arguably the best of his career. In the two seasons from 2009 to 2011, Johnson contributed 13 goals and a whopping 65 assists. But his 2011-12 season was a tough one, where he failed to produce as he had in the past. The Kings cut the cord on him, trading him to the Columbus Blue Jackets in February of 2012.
Related – Meet the New Blackhawks: Max Domi
Johnson went on to spend seven seasons overall with the Blue Jackets. While his offensive numbers weren’t as flashy as when he was with the Kings, he established himself as a solid two-way defenseman who had the capacity to play physical and eat heavy minutes. He also became a leader for the team, donning the “A” on his sweater.
Since then, Johnson’s play has naturally subsided with age. He’s become a bit of a journeyman, spending two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, one with the New York Rangers and last season with the Avalanche. As stated above, he’s signed for one year with the Blackhawks as well.
Making the Most of His Time With the Avalanche
I reached out to my THW colleague, Len Vlahos, who writes about the Avalanche, to get his insight on Johnson’s 2021-22 season in Colorado.
Johnson was a 2021 offseason acquisition by then Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic (now president of hockey operations). He was brought in to fill out the back end of the team’s defense. At the time, the Avalanche knew five of their six defenders would be — Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Erik Johnson, Samuel Girard, and rookie Bowen Byram. The sixth spot was largely going to fall to Johnson and Ryan Murray.
With the acquisition of Josh Manson from the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline, Johnson figured to spend more time as a healthy scratch, but a series of injuries throughout the season, along with solid play, saw Johnson appear in 74 games for Colorado. He was also the man off the bench when Girard broke his sternum in Colorado’s second round series against the Blues, and played the remaining 13 games of the playoffs.
Johnson is a veteran presence on the ice and in the locker room. He proved himself physical player in the postseason, averaging 16.2 hits per 60 minutes of play, which was third best on the team.
For someone that was originally expected to be the sixth or seventh defenseman, 74 regular season games and 13 playoff games is quite substantial. It seems Johnson surprised everyone by playing more than expected, and doing it well, for the Avs this past season. Injuries were a big factor, but the blueliner admirably stepped up to the plate. He certainly started out with a bang, ironically at the expense of the Blackhawks.
Granted, this was the veteran’s lone goal of the season, to go along with just eight assists. But he also finished the campaign a plus-5 and contributed 68 blocked shots and a healthy 91 hits. These are some substantial defensive contributions, and much of the reason the coaching staff kept playing him.
What Johnson Brings to the Blackhawks
Let’s also remember that besides hoisting the Stanley Cup, the defenseman also played his 1000th game on Mar. 1, 2022. He currently sits at 1024 total regular season games played (along with 43 playoff contests). Based on all this, I believe Johnson will bring experience and mentorship to the Blackhawks, which should benefit the plethora of younger players on the team. But I also wonder if this will play out more in the locker room than it will on the ice.
Related – Meet the New Blackhawks: Petr Mrazek
It seems Johnson, like he was supposed to be with the Avs, is yet another insurance policy for the Blackhawks. If injuries come into play, we will see more of him. If the defensive prospects need some more time in Rockford, we will see more of him. But if other blueliners remain healthy, or if a prospect excels and earns a shot with the big club, it’s no skin off the Blackhawks’ nose to sit Johnson out as a healthy scratch.
Although, there still seems to be some gas left in the tank for this defenseman. He could certainly be a serviceable addition if he is needed. We’ll just have to wait and see if this is the case.