The Jackets were busy this past summer, trading for and signing a handful of new players. There were the big name acquisitions like Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski and Vinny Prospal; the goalie gamble with the signings of Mark Dekanich and Curtis Sanford; and some AHL all-stars were brought in to boost Springfield in the form of Alexandre Giroux and Martin St.Pierre.
On July 3rd, the Jackets filed a transaction with the league, after coming to terms on a one-year, two-way contract with defenseman Aaron Johnson. Most Columbus fans remembered the name as Johnson is a former draft pick of the Jackets, taken in the third round, 85th overall in 2001. The move was under the radar, given the other more high-profile moves the Jackets had completed.
So far this season, in which the Jackets have played eight games and have yet to win, Aaron Johnson has been the most productive signing. He was brought in to fight for the seventh blueliner position, but with his recent play he may have found a home as a starter.I've been following Johnson for over a decade now. I'm a Halifax, Nova Scotia resident and a huge fan of junior hockey. My allegiance is with the Halifax Mooseheads, but I play special attention to all of the fellow Nova Scotians that dot the QMJHL rosters.
Back in 1999 Johnson was a first round pick of the Rimouski Oceanic. He was known as a puck-moving defenseman, and in his rookie season of 1999-2000 the Oceanic were the QMJHL Champions, earning a berth in the 2000 Memorial Cup hosted here in Halifax. The Oceanic ended up winning the tournament, backed by their superstars Brad Richards and Vincent Lecavalier up front.
The following season Johnson put up 12-41-53, and was drafted by the Jackets that summer. He played two more seasons before making the jump to the pros in 2003/2004. He split that season between minor-league Syracuse and Columbus. He ended up playing 29 games with Columbus in his rookie season.
The following season he spent the entire year with Syracuse, and followed that year up with another season split between the AHL and NHL, suiting up in 26 games for Columbus. The next season, 2006-2007, Johnson was a full-time member of the Jackets, putting up 3-7-10 in 61 games.
He wasn't tendered a contract offer following that season, and he became a bit of a journeyman. Leading up to last season, he spent time with the Islanders, Blackhawks, Flames, Oilers and Nashville organizations, before the Jackets came calling this past summer.
Johnson was coming off a strong season with the Milwaukee Admirals, setting personal highs in points with 35, and the Jackets wanted him to compete for the seventh defenseman spot, or provide veteran leadership and depth in the AHL. Added to that, he's Rick Nash's best friend, and the two work out together in the summers.
Johnson went on to win the seventh defense spot with the Jackets this fall, and was a healthy scratch in the season opener. He suited up for the Jackets second game against Minnesota, but was scratched for the next three games. Injuries and the suspension to Wisniewski have seen him suit up for the last three games however, and here's how he has looked in the four games he has appeared in:
12:43 Ice Time, 0G-1A-1PTS, EVEN, 0 PIM
14:22 Ice Time, 0G-0A-0PTS, -1, 0 PIM
25:21 Ice Time, 1G-1A-2PTS, EVEN, 2 PIM
24:18 Ice Time, 1G-0A-1PTS, +1, 0 PIM
On a great team, four points wouldn't be eye-popping numbers. On the Jackets this season though, his four points really stand out. His totals have him sitting third in team scoring, behind only Rick Nash and Vinny Prospal.
This is a double-edged sword.
Give Johnson credit, he has made the most of his opportunities, but the fact he is third in the team in scoring shows the struggles the Jackets' forwards have experienced. If this team is winning, he shouldn't be outscoring Derick Brassard, R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette. For that matter, fellow blueliners Fedor Tyutin, Kris Russell and Grant Clitsome, who are expected to be point producers for the Jackets, all sit behind Johnson on the scoring charts.
Aside from the points, Johnson is making things happen offensively. He's noticeable in the offensive zone, and has seen more powerplay time in recent games. He has shown a willingness to pinch, and has a hard shot, which he used to score his goal against the Wings. He's sure-handed while moving the puck up-ice, and has been transitioning the puck nicely, something that can't be said for the other blueliners.
His defensive game is his achilles heel, however. While he hasn't outright been a liability, he has whiffed on some easy clears, and has shown some indecision at times in his own zone.
That's fine. He's putting up points when nobody else is. He's giving the Jackets a reliable offensive weapon, and if the Jackets are going to turn things around, he needs to continue to do so. When Wisniewski returns, the team should find a way to keep Johnson in the lineup.
As long as he is contributing, why wouldn't they?