Thanks to everyone who voted for this year’s Top 25 Under 25 ranking. We had almost 100 submissions from Columbus Blue Jackets fans. Stay tuned as we enter the home stretch with the top 10 players. Now, 3rd-ranked Kent Johnson.
#3 Kent Johnson
3rd out of 40 eligible players
Writer Rank: 3
Reader Rank: 3
Highest placement: 1 (3 votes)
Most common placement: 3 (34 votes)
2021 Rank: 5
Birthdate: October 18, 2002
Birthplace: Port Moody, BC, Canada
Weight: 168 lbs.
Position: Left Wing/Center
Acquired: Drafted 5th overall in the 2021 Entry Draft
Johnson has had a busy 12 months. He started out at the University of Michigan where he continued his collegiate success by scoring 37 points in 32 games. He also represented Canada in the Olympics, World Championship, and World Junior Championship. All in all, he managed a 1.07 points per game pace in non-NHL action — an impressive mark for a 19 year old. Add in the fact that he scored the golden goal for Canada in the World Junior Championship gold medal game and you could call it a successful year.
The points are great, but it’s his skill that stands out. He can make plays with the puck that can’t be taught — a byproduct of his quick hands and fast mind. He’s dazzled at every level with opponent dodging dekes and slick passes that catch defenses off guard. He’s a playmaker and showed as much in his first nine NHL games last season. He only managed three assists, but his ability and potential showed on the ice.
Given his success, experience, and skill level, it’s hard to imagine Johnson not making the team out of camp. It’s certainly possible he’s deemed not ready and gets sent to Cleveland, but I would not put money on it. The biggest question will be how he manages his slight build — something he struggled with in his first NHL games. With as much hockey as he’s been playing, I doubt he’s been able to put on much weight. Will he have enough confidence and vision to nullify that disadvantage? He will need to learn how to be shifty and evasive enough to avoid big hits if he wants a chance at playing 82 games. The good news for Johnson is that at 6’1” he should eventually fill out physically.
It’s difficult to project where Johnson may fit into the lineup. Putting him alongside a veteran like Gus Nyquist could help him get more comfortable with regular NHL duty, but he could be more offensively dangerous next to a better shooter like Kirill Marchenko or Emil Bemstrom. Johnson has the ability to drive possession and if he can figure out the NHL early and have the right line mates beside him, he could put up some points this season.
The biggest question on the minds of the fans may be whether or not the team tries to transition him to center eventually. While that is hard to predict, I doubt we will see it happen this season while he’s still trying to adjust to life as an NHL player. Personally, I have doubts it will ever happen at all. That is not a bad thing either, especially with him having an elite play driving winger like Gaudreau to look up to and learn from.
With all due respect to Rick Nash, Kent Johnson is probably the most skilled prospect this organization has ever had. I’m not projecting Johnson to have the career Nash did, but just saying that their skillsets are different. Nash was a skilled power forward while Johnson is a pure playmaker with better natural hands than most. He also has the vision to make sparks fly. We will be dazzled by Johnson’s skill more than a few times this season. Buckle up.