It has been a fun 10 days for Stephen Johns. First, his NHL debut was a Stars victory against the team which traded him to Dallas. Next, he scored his first NHL goal to tie the score at three against the Tampa Bay Lightning (Stars would win 4-3). The following day the Stars extended his contract for two years, and made it a one-way contract. The terms of the contact were not released.
Johns gives the Stars an element of size (6’4, 225) and physical play which has been missing from their blue line. As Stars’ GM Jim Nill said at the time, Johns was a key part of the Patrick Sharp trade last summer.
Through five games with Dallas, head coach Lindy Ruff has paired Johns with a reliable veteran defenseman in Johnny Oduya. Though a small sample size, Johns is averaging four-plus hits per game (No Stars regular is averaging more than two). His on-ice Corsi For is 52.94%.
Stephen Johns with his 1st NHL goal puck. pic.twitter.com/nGkzgENvKB
— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) March 18, 2016
Prior to his recent promotion to Dallas, Johns had played the past two seasons exclusively in the American Hockey League with Texas and Rockford (Chicago’s affiliate). Before he became a professional hockey player, Johns was a student athlete for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
Johns, 23, from Wampum PA, played for the US Development program for two seasons before joining Notre Dame. He played four seasons with the Irish. To find out more about Stephen Johns’ college days THW reached out to his college coach Jeff Jackson.
ND Head Coach Jeff Jackson on Stephen Johns
THW: What surprised you most about Johns when he joined Notre Dame as a freshman?
Jackson: He was quick at handling the transition to the college game. His size, skating ability and puck skills weren’t so much of a surprise but his confidence stood out. You rarely see freshmen with that level confidence.
THW: In an article by ND’s Anna Gonzalez, you were asked to use a few words to best describe each senior. When it came to Stephen Johns you chose the word “passionate.” Does anything specific standout when you think of the passion in Stephen Johns game?
Jackson: He was a big-game player, he played his best in the big games and found a way to elevate his game. If it was a game against Hockey East rival Boston College for example, Stephen would raise his game.
THW: Johns was one of your alternate captains his senior year. How would you describe his leadership ability?
Jackson: His teammates respected him. He had ability, he was a horse in the weight room and was a model student athlete. He was good academically and embraced the social aspects of college. He has great parents. He could have left after his junior year but came back to finish his degree.
THW: During his time at ND, I’ve read where you mentioned a need to improve his decision-making and the emotional/mental aspects of his game. Was this about taking too many penalties?
Jackson: No, not penalties, but sometimes he would get fired up looking for the big hit and would get out of position. It was about staying in control and making better decisions defensively.
THW: He seems like the type of player who has been missing from Dallas since the Derian Hatcher days?
Jackson: I’ve thought he has the potential to develop into a Scott Stevens type of defenseman. He has the good passing skills, size and physical game.
THW: Have you kept in touch with Johns?
Jackson: Not since the move to Dallas, but pass along my regards when you talk with him.
Sunday morning on Stars Sunday (1310AM/96.7FM The Ticket), co-host Bruce Levine also raved about Johns’ game. ” The Kid’s got a cannon of a shot. I could see him on future power-play pairings.” More from Levine, “Stephen Johns rocked Kyle Okposo which doesn’t happen often. The Stars need a right-handed defenseman and need that kind of physicality.”
Special thanks to Notre Dame’s Dan Colleran for coordinating the interview with coach Jackson.