How will Kent Johnson’s BCHL dominance translate to higher levels?

Kent Johnson of the Trail Smoke Eaters/Photo: Garrett James Photography

Introduction

It isn’t overly common for a player to debut in the NCAA in their first-time draft eligible season– only 32 players have done so in the last 10 years. NHL teams rarely pass on those players; the majority of them are with NHL organizations today and 22 have already recorded at least one point in the NHL. When the NCAA resumes play– Hockey East hopes to begin in November– Kent Johnson will become the 33rd, and there’s little doubt that he’ll also eventually join the list of players to score a point. Johnson might be the best player the British Columbia Hockey League has ever produced. Scott Gomez is the only player to outmatch Johnson’s 1.94 points-per-game with his outstanding 2.21 per game rate way back in 1997. Gomez peaked at 84 points in 2005-06 and added three more 70 point seasons, so that’s a promising comparable for Johnson. Johnson’s and Gomez’s paths will soon diverge; Gomez went to the Western Hockey League for his draft season whereas Johnson is headed to the University of Michigan.

This deep dive is powered by InStat Hockey, the ultimate source for scouting prospects. The basic figures come from the always useful pick224.com.

Scoring

Johnson’ decidedly dominated the BCHL last season– he looked far too good for the league, embarrassing defenders on the regular and cutting a path to the crease with ease. You won’t often find a player with nearly two points, 8 shot attempts, and 3.7 scoring chances on a per-game basis at their level, even if it’s a weaker circuit like the BCHL. He’s an exceptional scorer, creating dangerous opportunities for himself on a frequent basis and possessing the hands and finishing ability to convert to goals at a high rate. 24% of Johnson’s shots on goal came from right around the crease and nearly 75% were from the home plate area. The first thing to realize about Johnson’s scoring profile is that his shot isn’t actually as powerful as you’d expect for a guy with 41 goals in 52 games. That’s a 65 goal pace over 82 games. The driver behind his scoring is Johnson’s ability to get to the home plate area and produce dangerous opportunities, not his ability to beat goaltenders from the perimeter. 

There’s no better introduction to the craftiness that Johnson possesses as a scorer than showing the THREE Michigan moves that he has successfully pulled off in the BCHL.

His hands and puck skills are about as smooth and quick as you’ll find in a draft eligible prospect. He loves to enter the slot on his forehand, dance through traffic, and finish on the backhand. As a left-handed centre that likes to work off of the left side of his ice– 120 of Johnson’s shots from the wing came on the left side of the ice compared to 70 from the right– that’s an extremely valuable tool to have in his arsenal.

This is a crucial fixture of Johnson’s offensive package. Regardless of perimeter shooting, it’s so important for a player to be able to consistently penetrate the slot. Johnson’s left-right slashing ability is clearly exceptional at the BCHL level– if he can translate that prowess to higher levels of play, it’ll be a tremendous boost to his NHL future. Not only would it mean Johnson is pretty much a lock to continue his scoring at a high-level rate as an NHLer, but it also adds confidence to the likelihood that a potential shift to the wing for Johnson, who won only 42% of his faceoffs and needs to add a bunch of weight to stand up to the rigours of the centre position, would go without a hitch. On a University of Michigan roster with John Beecher, Brendan Brisson, Thomas Bordeleau– all recent top 40 picks– as centre options, it seems likely that Johnson will at least spend some of his season on the flank. There’s always that allure towards placing a scoring forward on his off-wing, but that isn’t the way Johnson has been used for the Smoke Eaters. He plays the left wall on the powerplay– his forehand side– and prefers to possess the puck on that wall and walk into shots rather than hunt one-timers on the opposite boards. Letting him possess the puck on his forehand and look to cut into the slot from the left wing seems like the more natural fit if he does shift out of the centre position.

The toe drag is Johnson’s most lethal move and that’s because he can either shoot or pull the puck onto his backhand and continue to attack the net out of that move. It actually seems like he shoots out of a toe drag more often than not, making him an extremely deceptive handler and shooter. There’s no audio on a GIF, but Johnson absolutely convinced the announcer he was about pass the puck on this drag. Instead, he sniped it. 

This one is just ridiculous. He covers so much lateral ground that there’s really just no possibility for a defender to do anything to counter this kind of toe drag into shot, especially when they’re already drifting in the opposite direction to cut him off like this poor defenceman is. That combination of lateral movement to get into prime scoring real estate and the backwards drag to bring the puck out of the reach of the defender– what do you do to stop that? There’s very little that can be done, and when the defender is forced to move the other way just to cut off Johnson’s initial lane to the net, there’s nothing that can be done. He stands there dejectedly after Johnson reduces him to nothing more than a screen on his own goalie. That’s the value of Johnson’s craftiness. He can attack any mistake by the defender, whether it’s him being late arriving like this defenceman below or another slip-up like an overly lax gap, and turn it into a high-percentage shooting opportunity from the slot.

He can really feast on defenders that are late establishing position in between him and the net. The toe drag gives him Johnson an inside shooting angle in this next clip,

This next defender hits the ice and fully extends, but Johnson still drags all the way back and around his stick to create the finish. There’s not a lot to do to stop this move, but it’s pretty clear that anything that pulls you to Johnson’s left as he looks to pull the puck back and to the right isn’t going to end well for you.

So how can a defender stop that move? Ideally, you don’t want to give him any glimpse of a lane to the inside. That’s why it was so easy for Johnson to expose those defenders that were late cutting off his lane to the net– they’re already moving laterally to get into an appropriate position, so it’s relatively easy for Johnson to go the other way and create that inside lane that he wants. To take away that inside drag, a defender wants to establish a tight gap up by the blueline before Johnson enters shooting range and lock their alignment onto his inside shoulder.

When defenders set up well, Johnson has a few ways to free himself up.

He can fake outside to bring the defender off his inside shoulder before cutting back in for a shot:

Or Johnson can get fancy with a between-the-legs drag like this one:

Here’s a really creative one where the defender does establish a tight gap nice and early. Johnson fakes the dump-in down the wall, chips the puck down the middle, and catches up to it for a backhand shot right in front.

Johnson can even take on the entire team himself, beating the last defender outside and trying to finish between-the-legs.

However, Johnson hasn’t demonstrated the burst to beat defenders to the outside consistently. When the defender takes away his inside lane, his offensive rushes are reduced to low-percentage outside shots too often.

This play is frustrating– Johnson winds the puck all the way up, attacks a defender playing a terrible gap with plenty of speed, and all he gets is an outside shot. 

And this play– he chips the puck out ahead in transition, forces the defender to turn and try to make up ground, but Johnson can’t get far enough ahead to create a driving lane and takes another low-percentage shot.

I like this fake shot to freeze the defender, but Johnson would be able to make a lot more out of it if he was able to explode out of that position past the defender and take the puck towards the net rather than just adjusting his shot angle to further outside. His toe drag is effective because it takes him towards the centre of the ice, a move like this isn’t because it takes him even further away.

When his team has set up in the offensive zone like this next clip, I don’t mind it so much. However, when Johnson has speed on the rush, it’s not the desired result.

Attacks with speed again, but the defender contains him to the outside of the ice.

If that isn’t present at the BCHL level, Johnson could have a tough go at creating as a scorer off the rush for Michigan against the older, more experienced defenders of the NCAA. Adding a degree of explosiveness should be a priority for him– we’ll take a look at his skating and how he could do that later on. Another area for Johnson to develop is his off-puck rush game and ability to work off his teammates in transition. As the best player in the BCHL, Johnson has never really needed to use his teammates to help him get to scoring spots. Two years ago, Tim Stutzle scored 23 goals in 21 DEL U20 games while getting to the crease with ease. He scored 7 goals in 41 games the year after in the much stronger professional DEL and there were some concerns that the German forward was somewhat of a perimeter player. That demonstrates how easily a player’s slot penetration ability can collapse against better competition. Johnson won’t be as puck dominant at higher levels and using his teammates will be essential. He’s shown some nice flashes of that and I have no reason to believe that Johnson can’t do it, it’s just a relative unknown because Johnson hasn’t needed to do it on a consistent basis yet.

This give-and-go is a really positive sign– gives up the puck, goes to the net, gets it back in prime scoring estate.

This one is even better because the ice ahead of him is more crowded this time. Still gives it up, gets to space, goes to the net.

We’ve talked about how he can attack off the rush, now let’s take a good look at Johnson’s in-zone creation as a scorer. Johnson is an extremely eager shooter– he attempted 8 shots a game last year– that will not only take shots from very poor angles but is able to find twine from those areas too. 

He’s definitely more of a finesse scorer than a player that will overwhelm goaltenders with sheer velocity, getting to the home plate area and sniping with accurate touch. The left wall is Johnson’s “office”, of sorts, where he loves to loop out towards the blueline to gain some speed into his shot. When he opts for a basic shot, that can look like this.

The typical, unconcealed shot isn’t actually a very common occurrence for Johnson. He loves to freeze the initial defender with a fake, move outside, and take another shot through the newly created lane.

It’s a highly effective move, especially when the defence gives him room and lets him get below the top of the circles. If that frozen defender tries to recover, Johnson can shoot by them and use them as a screen on the goaltender.

And if the defender is extremely slow to react, Johnson can go right by them and walk right into the immediate slot.

Johnson will almost always attempt to shuffle the puck around a bit before shooting the puck, never wanting to allow the goaltender to get a good read of the puck before he releases it. Moving in on this two-on-one, he continues to stickhandle the puck as he makes it overwhelmingly clear that he’s looking to pass the puck off. Instead, he takes a quick shot on net.

He doesn’t stickhandle the puck on this one, but his stick angle communicates a potential pass to his left before he shoots back to the right side of the net.

He touches the puck five times, moving it forwards and back, before shooting the puck here.

He just doesn’t stop moving his hands before he shoots, always looking to create some deception.

Johnson is a very deceptive finisher around the net, able to pull goaltenders out of position and put the puck in the net. Undressing a player is one thing; going right around the goaltender and creating a wide open net for yourself is a whole ‘nother level.

Even in a one-versus-one scenario in a shootout, this is still pretty much a wide-open cage that he creates.

And this partial breakaway he freezes the goaltender with a fake shot and beats him outside. It takes a very talented scorer to make a goalie look this bad at his job.

Johnson recognizes the open space around the crease on this play and tucks the puck all the way around the goalie.

Johnson is also a very elusive player, a necessary trait for a 165 pound forward. He can work in the corners and escape larger forwards, allowing him to avoid containment to the outside so he can work towards the net. Look at how Johnson gets his hip ahead of the defender after spinning off of him– that’s crucial for smaller players to hold off defenders.

And look at this move after looking like he’s about to get pinned to the boards; that’s nothing short of ridiculous. He absolutely embarrassed that defender.

If he can continue making defenders look silly on a semi-regular level in the NCAA, his transition should go quite smoothly.

Johnson is an elusive, creative, and incredibly crafty scorer that has displayed a wide arsenal of scoring moves at the BCHL level. He can dance to the slot with incredible ease, making defenders look like fools on his way there. The forward is exceptional dangling from left to right, making him a tremendous threat attacking off the left flank. Johnson is also an extremely deceptive shooter that always looks to vary his shooting angle with a toe drag or quick string of puck moves, making it difficult for goaltenders to track his shot and make a save. He’s developing as a one-on-one rush attacker, already excelling at punishing defenders that overcommit to the outside lane but struggling to penetrate the middle when the defenceman plays a tight gap and sticks on his inside shoulder. That’s largely a product of Johnson’s lack of high-level burst and acceleration as a skater– he can’t beat defenders outside consistently and take advantage of defenders that take away the inside toe-drag move that he loves so much. Let’s take a look at his skating, with a focus on that burst that is currently limiting his rush effectiveness.

Skating

First of all, I want to be clear. Johnson may lack the quick acceleration to beat defenders wide in one-on-one situations, but that doesn’t mean that he’s a poor or sluggish skater. He stands out as faster than most at the BCHL level, able to effectively move the puck through the neutral zone and stay ahead of backcheckers. Just look: Johnson has no issue speeding past the first forechecker here and taking it all the way to the offensive zone.

He’s able to create enough speed to find this outside lane and get the easy zone entry on this play.

The issue with Johnson isn’t his slow-to-fast acceleration; it’s his fast-to-faster quickness, sometimes described as “finding another gear”. Why is that? I would attribute it to a lack of sufficient power in his stride. Remember, Johnson only weighs 165 pounds. He doesn’t have a whole lot of muscle powering that stride and his skating doesn’t maximize the power that he does possess, either. Johnson is a quick skater, with light feet and a high stride rate, not a strong one. 

Take a look at this screencap of Mathew Barzal in his Fastest Skater winning lap from earlier this year.

A lot of skaters are taught to have their knee over their toe on their striding leg, but look at how Barzal’s knee is clearly positioned in front of his toe. Barzal is 6’0” and 187 pounds, I’d expect Johnson (who is 6’1”) to play somewhere in a similar weight class to that as an NHL. Like Johnson, Barzal doesn’t have an exceptional amount of muscle mass behind his speed. This greater than usual knee flexion allows him to generate exceptional power in his stride, making him one of the fastest skaters in the NHL.

Here’s Connor McDavid. Look at that knee– it’s out in front of his toe.

Another common denominator in these two pictures is the alignment from McDavid and Barzal’s heads all the way through their extending legs. Their weight and centre of gravity is forward, contributing to their momentum. In comparison, look at Johnson’s stride.

His knee is above the toe, not in front of it. And he doesn’t have the same alignment between his head and extending leg– that angle is considerably more upright than McDavid’s or Barzal’s. I think both of these factors could be limiting Johnson’s highest gear. Greater knee flexion could maximize the power of each individual stride and a greater forward lean would transfer his centre of gravity further in front of him, allowing Johnson to accelerate faster even when he’s already at high speed. In addition to a strength program, I think focusing on deepening his knee bend and forward lean could lead to visible improvement in his dynamism and explosiveness off the rush.

Playmaking

The same deceptiveness and creativity that Johnson exemplifies as a scorer also show in the Canadian winger’s playmaking, even with it being a background element of his offensive game. Johnson is very much a shoot-first attacker– you don’t average 8 shots attempts per game without declining passing opportunities for individual scoring chances on a frequent basis– but he’s also an excellent distributor that excels at attracting attention with his shooting danger, finding available linemates, and piercing the slot with accurate passes from the perimeter. He doesn’t play a playmaking role on an oft enough basis to showcase it consistently, but Johnson has displayed flashes of exceptional awareness and vision for his teammates.

First of all, Johnson can create plays for others with his own shot– rebounds, deflections, etc. Even if the goaltender stops his shot, there’s a chance of the puck sticking around in the slot for a second opportunity.

A more prevalent area where Johnson’s scoring talent bleeds into his playmaking game is how he uses the threat of his shot to attract the attention of the defence– it isn’t uncommon for all five opposing defenders to direct their focus to Johnson when he has the puck loaded on his forehand– allowing him to take advantage of passing seams and distracted defenders. Here’s that fake shot move that he loves to shoot out of; instead, Johnson goes backdoor to a teammate who scores.

The backdoor slap pass doesn’t connect this time, but this clip is very similar.

There’s bound to be open options when you have a two-man advantage like Trail does here, but Johnson having the puck on his forehand almost causes two of the penalty killers to collide as they drift out towards Johnson.

Another powerplay possession: Johnson pivots his hips towards the goal and loads the puck up on his forehand after receiving the pass. That’s a clear shooting position, and the player furthest to the far boards in the opposing team’s diamond structure recognizes it– he turns to have his stick face the net, shifting out of the cross-ice seam and allowing Johnson to use that opening to record a primary assist.

This play is very similar, with Johnson presenting a shooting position and the defensive player residing in the cross-ice seam relaxes, allowing that pass across the slot.

Johnson’s creativity, passing vision, and shooting danger can all culminate into beautiful assists like this one. On the zone entry, the centre gets the puck onto his forehand, inviting one defender to step up to attempt to disrupt the shot. But that shot never comes; instead, Johnson spins and delivers a pass to a teammate occupying the space where the defender that stepped up had previously been. That teammate scores.

Johnson has all four defenders that are involved in this play focused on him as he looks as though he might take a shot, even with it being a low-percentage chance from beyond the circles. That allows a linemate of his to sneak in on the far side for a good chance.

Johnson has a grasp on simple logic: when two or more opposing players are focused on him, there’s bound to be an unattended teammate somewhere on the ice. Even when he isn’t presenting a shooting threat, he can draw defenders towards him and distribute into space.

The forward is most dangerous as a playmaker when he gets into the slot– unfortunately for his assist totals though, he’s almost always looking to shoot when he finds himself in that area. But when Johnson doesn’t shoot, he exhibits keen vision and can distribute to teammates in stronger scoring positions than himself.

Even as a lethal scorer that doesn’t pass up his own opportunities particularly often, Johnson made enough incredible passes this past year to make his exceptional vision obvious. He had several of these assists where he looks to be taking the puck behind the net before dishing to a teammate in front on the backhand– that’s a similar kind of deception as what makes his scoring game so lethal.

He made that high-level awareness blatantly clear on this similar play, where he passed up an unobstructed shot from right in front of the net to go behind the net and dish to a trailing teammate in that same manner.

Here he is doing the same thing a second time.

His vision allows him to keep the puck flowing around the ice extremely quickly, taking advantage of defenders that are a step behind and think Johnson will need more time to make that sort of play.

It’s not particularly often that you find such an effective scorer that also possesses “eyes in the back of the head” vision. That’s a terrifying combination.

And when that player is as creative as Johnson is, it can result in some incredible assists. He didn’t just pull off the Michigan three times as a scorer; Johnson also successfully won the faceoff through the opposing centre’s legs and passed in front for an assist twice last season. The camera didn’t catch the second one here, but it happened.

Johnson is a player with this vision, passing touch, and creativity as a distributor to complement his elite-level scoring package extremely effectively. Johnson already presents so many ways that he can create a high-danger chance just for himself as a scorer; add in a very real creation game as a playmaker and you get a forward that’s so dominant for his level that he made putting up 101 points in 52 games at 17 years old look simple. The most important part of Johnson’s playmaking isn’t the spinning passes, seemingly no-look passes, or crazy faceoff assists, but rather the versatility and additional element to his perimeter game that his outside vision and ability to pass out of a shooting position gives him. Simply put: the chances of Johnson successfully penetrating the slot as frequently and easily as he did over the last two years in the BCHL at higher levels of competition are zero. NCAA, and eventually NHL, defenders are faster, stronger, and less likely to bite on Johnson’s fakes from the outside– especially if he can’t add that extra step of burst to his one-on-one game. That means he’ll need to be more reliant on his creation abilities from the outer lanes of the ice. If Johnson can make plays off of faceoffs or pull off those spinning backhand passes as an NHLer, it will be pretty damn sick. But if he can consistently pick apart defences with cross-ice passes from the perimeter like these two, it’s difficult not to see him being a high-level playmaker, and that’s ultimately more meaningful.

Defensive Play

I won’t spend too much time on Johnson’s defensive game because I don’t believe the defensive performance of perhaps the best offensive player the BCHL has ever seen as a 17-year-old is particularly indicative of how he’ll do in that area at future levels, but it is relevant for two reasons: it will almost definitely affect how his NCAA coach plays him in this upcoming season, and it could potentially have bearing on whether or not he sticks at centre moving forward. Johnson has been very suitable as a centre for Trail– he doesn’t appear to “take any shifts off” defensively or cheat out offensively, typically positioning himself in a strong spot to support his defencemen and coming down low as a centre in the defensive zone. At the BCHL level, some of his value would be wasted on his wing: Johnson frequently acts as a “third defenceman”, collecting pucks deep in his zone and starting the breakout himself. That type of transitional value isn’t a super common feature in centres– a lot of forwards that excel in the neutral zone are wingers that can “cheat” a little bit on the breakout and get out quickly. But with Johnston, his transitional value comes deep in the zone with his elusiveness and ability to evade forecheckers in the process of finding space to move the puck forward.

Look how Johnson takes the puck away behind the net, loses the man on his back, and plays the puck to a teammate in space to get the breakout started.

He supports this puck battle, digs the puck out, and finds an open teammate even with an opposing player closing in on him.

His defensive support can be immensely valuable– Johnson is frequently in a position to grab loose pucks and clean up for his defencemen when they successfully knock an offensive player off the puck, and can immediately get the puck moving forward out of those positions. He doesn’t show any panic even while collecting this rebound in his own crease, taking it behind the net and beginning the transition.

Again: he’s right in position to grab this loose puck and get it moving out of the zone.

When his defencemen step up, Johnson is almost always prepared to take their position and provide support behind them. Johnson’s defenceman moves up in the defensive zone to pressure the puck carrier along the boards; when the puck shakes loose, Johnson is right there behind him to kick the puck forwards to start the breakout.

His elusiveness is a major asset when he’s grabbing these loose pucks. Even when the opponent is contesting those pucks, Johnson can typically create enough time for himself to find an outlet in space.

Johnson also demonstrates strong defensive instincts in passing lanes, anticipating passes and breaking up plays. 

It’s yet to be seen how his transition to the NCAA will go, but I think it would be foolish to shift Johnson to the wing, even with an underwhelming 42% faceoff rate. That defensive support and breakout ability was a very valuable part of his game as a BCHLer, acting as an additional defenceman and making things a lot easier for his defensive corps when he’s on the ice acting in that manner. If his elusiveness remains at the college level, his transition ability would be wasted on the wing.

Summary

Kent Johnson is one of the craftiest and most creative players that I’ve ever seen for his age. His deceptiveness as a scorer– he rarely shoots without at least shuffling the puck beforehand– is truly exceptional, netting him 41 goals in combination with his pinpoint accuracy. The most interesting part about his scoring profile is that Johnson is probably best classified as a “finesse” scorer, using deceitfulness and accuracy to finish rather than the simply overpowering shot of an Ovechkin or Stamkos. That’s not a super common thing– these light-footed, slight-bodied forwards like the 165 pound Johnson usually prefer to distribute rather than score (think Mitch Marner), but Johnson is very much a shoot-first attacker and his eight shot attempts per game stand up as clear evidence of that. But Johnson also demonstrated terrific vision and touch as a playmaker in limited reps, able to thread passes from the perimeter into the slot through difficult seams. He uses the threat of his shot to create options for himself as a distributor, using fake shots or even just assuming a shooting position to command attention from the defence and create space elsewhere. Johnson is a quick skater with light, fast feet, but a lack of power limits his top gear and ability to beat defenders in one-on-one situations. Additional leg strength should cure some of that, but I think assuming a deeper knee bend and a greater forward lean could also help Johnson find another gear at top speed. Johnson’s 42% faceoff percentage could potentially impact his standing as a centre at future levels; will his future coaches want a slight centre that struggles at the faceoff dot? However, Johnson plays strong, supportive defence and provided significant transitional value for the Trail Smoke Eaters last season, assisting down low and frequently starting the breakout in a role very much similar to a third defenceman. Putting him on the wing means sacrificing that part of his game– it could depend on how his elusiveness and eye for space translates to NCAA pace, but I think Michigan would be foolish not to use him at his natural position (To be clear, I haven’t heard any talk to him moving to the wing, I’m just speculating here). 

Projection

So what could Johnson’s future look like?

Johnson’s ceiling, I think, is a legitimate top-line centre. 60+ points, probably 30-40 goals a season, elite transition value, top-unit powerplay deployment, and average-to-above-average defensive play. As he climbs to higher competition, it is expected that pieces of his game will shake loose, but he really does show the desirable qualities in a centre and key offensive contributor. His craftiness allows him to counter plenty of what the defence throws at him, his deceptiveness as a scorer should make him a difficult stop as a goaltender regardless of the level of play, and Johnson has the high-end vision and passing touch to strike as a distributor even when the opponent succeeds in limiting him to the outer lanes of the ice. I do think this will depend on him finding another gear at top speed to help him add an element of pace manipulation to his rush attack; for a player that is so lethal attacking with speed, it’s natural that upping that speed will raise his offensive ceiling. If he can threaten to beat defenders wide off the rush, it would make him extremely difficult to stop in those situations; it’s difficult to counter a player that can beat you in any direction. It’d also help Johnson maintain his high-end transitional value— if he can continue to scoop up loose pucks and create separation as he begins to move the puck forwards to the offensive zone, he should be able to keep that element as a significant piece of his overall game.

A more mid-level projection is a top-six forward that can play a variety of roles on a team’s top two lines. Need a top-line winger that can bring quickness, creativity, and finishing talent? Johnson could be that guy. A second-line centre with a responsible two-way game and a wide array of offensive tools for teammates to work off of? I think Johnson could fill that type of role too. This type of projection is a likely one for Johnson because of the raw skill that he possesses— even if his transition to the NHL doesn’t go absolutely seamlessly, he’ll always have excellent hands, a deceptive shot, and plus quickness. Those tools should make Johnson a useful top-six player even if it’s in more of a secondary, less puck-dominant role. This projection assumes Johnson’s skating ability to be above-average but unexceptional and for his slot penetration abilities to drop off against better defenders. He would need to lose a lot in the transition to become unfit for some kind of skill role as an NHLer– Johnson just possesses so much skill that a top-six future seems like a sure bet, even if it’s only in a complementary scoring role.

Low-end? I do think Johnson could play as a bottom-six type– he’s not a boom-or-bust prospect (worst case, he absolutely bombs next year for Michigan and his NHL chances fall accordingly, but I can’t conceivably see a situation where that happens). HIs one-on-one and slot penetration game would have to near-fully collapse for his offensive impact to fall into a bottom-six range. If Johnson’s lack of an elite top gear makes him easy for NHL defenders to lock down off the rush and he can’t consistently create space for himself with his hands, Johnson could be reduced to an off-puck attacker, hanging around the slot and looking for passes and rebounds to finish. His defensive support and elusiveness could still make Johnson a plus defensive and transitional forward, but his offensive game would be reduced to a shell of his BCHL self.

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