As you all know (much to your collective chagrin), I am a University of Michigan sports fan. Given the wealth of hockey talent the Jackets have acquired in recent years from said university, I wanted to share one writer's perspective on Kent Johnson through the lens of him leaving the UM program.
I don't post this as a prediction, or as a slam against the organization; rather, it's just commentary from someone who's watched every single college game Johnson has played, and, from reading his writing, has a solid enough understanding of the game at both the NCAA level and the NHL level to make some judgments about Johnson's future. I wish the summary was brighter.
On Kent Johnson:
His NHL potential: Johnson is the player of this group that I'm most fascinated by when it comes to his NHL future. Johnson is a player with a clear set of skills, and also a clear set of weaknesses. Johnson has very good hands and the ability to make dangles/dekes that few other players can, even at the NHL level. His shot is also not bad at all. On the other hand, the aforementioned skill does not achieve as much as it should. He makes a lot of neat plays but they don't often lead to much of anything, and he had a tendency to rack up secondary assists that pad his point totals, which empirically are mostly random and not indicative of a player's success, generally speaking. Moreover, Johnson remains extremely skinny and does not engage physically in the corners.
While this sounds a lot like a proverbial compliment sandwich, or maybe a compliment wrap (here are the criticisms, but wrapped up nicely in this compliment about skill), I think we've seen early on that KJ has been willing to mix it up a bit more than perhaps he was in college, as the NHL is a more physical league to begin with. I'm sure he's also just trying to keep his head above water, too.
The good here, of course, is what we already knew and have seen: he can make just about any pass on the ice, and seems to have a good feel for where people are and where the puck should go.
But wait, there's more (emphasis mine)!
Finally, Johnson plays at a very slow pace, always preferring to slow the game down when the puck is on his stick rather than keep moving.
The concern with this approach to the game is pretty obvious when we're talking about the NHL: it is the fastest and biggest league in the world. Players in the NHL are far bigger, stronger, and more physical than the NCAA and if Johnson didn't want to play the physical side in college, what does that mean for the NHL? Additionally, NHLers take away time and space, and the hallmark of a great NHLer is one who can think and execute high-level plays on the fly. Johnson didn't show that much at Michigan. He's not going to get the same amount of time to stop and contemplate the play in the NHL.
This is what gave me some pause. Does he play at a slow pace? I don't think we have enough data at the NHL level, and all we'd ever heard is that he's a rink rat that loves the game and loves to break it down mentally. To me, that would imply a guy who thinks the game at a HIGH pace, rather than slowing things down. But, again, this is a guy who's watched him play night in and night out for two years.
He's going to need to either figure out how to speed himself up, or completely change his approach. Drafting him in the top five was a major swing by Columbus and KJ will get his chance to make it work, but I have my concerns.
Not great, Bob.
Bonus content on Blankenburg...
Blankenburg is generously listed at 5'9", 175 lbs. ... He is quite thin at that height, and struggled with getting knocked off the puck, even at the NCAA level. That is the most obvious concern for him in the NHL. ... You can be a perimeter player as a forward and succeed, but that's not how the job of defenseman works.
On the other hand, Blankenburg makes up for it by being a fast skater who could be highly effective in controlled zone exits and zone entries, and has a comfortability playing the puck that not many defensemen have- a product of playing forward in HS. I actually assumed that an NHL team would play him at forward, not defense, but the Jackets have been lining him up on the blue line. The obvious comp. for Blankenburg is Victor Mete, also a severely undersized transition-based defenseman. Mete actually has played some at forward this year for Ottawa, and that's a path for Blankenburg, filling in where his team needs him. Mete's career has not been the best in terms of a success story, but he's now played over 200 NHL games, which feels like a best-case scenario Blankenburg. Teams will always be sqeaumish about Blankenburg holding up physically, but it's part of the package.
Do with all of this what you will!