Welcome to another summer of Blackhawks’ Future Friday. In this weekly column, we explore some of the prospects in the Blackhawks’ system, and see how far they’ve come in the past year, as well as discuss their future with the club. This Friday, after a week hiatus covering the recent Blackhawks’ prospect camp, we take a look at a player whose name was mentioned often during those said days: Defenseman Stephen Johns.
Johns became a member of the Blackhawks at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles, when he was selected in the second round, 60th overall. Johns joined a defensive draft class that only includes two present NHL’ers in the first two rounds: Jon Merril and Justin Faulk.
Since then, Johns has started and finished an entire NCAA career at Notre Dame University. He stepped into a top-four role in his freshman year and never looked back, playing in all 44 games that season while recording 98 PIMS and 13 points.
In the following three seasons, Johns helped the Fighting Irish capture a CCHA title in 2013, played for Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2012, and wrapped up his college career with 15 goals and 57 points in 162 games, an average of .35 points/game.
Although Johns did manage to find the scoresheet once every three games on average while playing college hockey, his size and defensive ability are certainly causing great anticipation in Blackhawks’ circles. Billed as a big-bodied, stay-at-home defenseman since the beginning of his college days, Johns has done nothing to shake that title, racking up a total of 300 penalty minutes in his four-season college career, and dishing out plenty of punishing hits along the way. He finished his NCAA career with a plus/minus rating of +9, after going -7 in his rookie season.
John’s stature certainly fits his playing style: at 6-foot-4, 234 lb, Johns weighs in as the heaviest Blackhawks prospect, tied with fellow defenseman Viktor Svedberg, who is 6-foot-8. Although many didn’t expect Johns to find the scoresheet often as a pro, he recorded 1 goal and 5 points in an eight-game stint with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs (the Blackhawks’ top affiliate) at the end of the 2013-14 season. Although that small sample size may not show the whole truth, Johns may be one of the most complete defenseman to come up through the Blackhawks’ system in over 10 years.
Earlier in the week, we ranked Johns as the Blackhawks’ #2 defensive prospect, behind fellow American and Rockford IceHog Adam Clendening. Both will surely see extended time at Blackhawks’ training camp in September, and depending on the clubs’ situation with roster defenseman, both could end up battling for a roster spot on opening night.
Although jumping straight from college to the pros may seem like a stretch, it isn’t uncommon: the Detroit Red Wings’ Danny DeKeyser made the jump to the Wings straight from Western Michigan University in 2013.
Johns was signed to a two-year entry level contract in April of this season, which carries a salary cap hit of $800,000. This option is easily more affordable than the $2.2 million that then-36 year old Michael Roszival will cost the Blackhawks this season. It is a feasible option for Blackhawks’ GM Stan Bowman when attacking the cap crunch facing the Blackhawks, but ultimately, it is likely that Johns will play most of his first professional season with the IceHogs down the road in Rockford.
Nonetheless, Blackhawks fans can sleep well knowing that the development train is rolling along smoothly, and one day in the near future, Stephen Johns will indeed be worth the hype.
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