Another player who impressed last night was Jack Johnson, and it seems as though Johnson might benefit from Terry Murray’s new emphasis on playmaking, including the thumbs-up for defensemen to be more active in initiating and joining plays.
Johnson was known as a strong two-way defenseman at the University of Michigan, but that top-level offensive ability has yet to show itself at the NHL level. Johnson had eight goals and 28 assists in 80 games last season, but his voice picked up a noticeably more excited tone when he was asked about his desire to be more active in the offensive zone.
“Absolutely,” Johnson said. “It’s no fun to never cross the red line. You want to get involved at both ends of the ice and try to contribute at both ends. I think that’s what makes the game fun. Just to be a one-sided player, I don’t think it makes it as fun.”
Murray’s faith in Johnson was bolstered by Johnson’s play in the second half of last season. There were consistency issues at times during the first half, but after Johnson returned from the Olympics — he won a silver medal with the United States — and got into the heat of an NHL playoff race, Johnson’s game elevated. This season, he picks up a new regular partner in the steady veteran Rob Scuderi.
“I was kind of reluctant to put Johnson on the left side,” Murray said. “I had him on the right side a few times last year, and I kind of preferred that he play his left side. Then, watching the Olympics, he really thrived. I thought he really stepped his game up, so I feel really good about what I saw.”
Johnson is still young — he won’t turn 24 until January — and is at a point in his career at which young defensemen are still developing. His new partner talked recently about the development of Johnson’s game.
“I think with Jack, I feel the same way I did last year,” Scuderi said. “He’s got a lot of talent. We just have to kind of learn to rope it in at times, and let him do what he can do at the right times. I thought he made big strides last year, playing good, solid defense in his end and, when he can, he can add a lot to the offense. So if he can continue to develop that part of his game, we’re really going to benefit.”
Scuderi said he noticed an evolution in Johnson’s game last season.
“When he came back from the Olympics, I thought he was much more responsible,” Scuderi said. “I thought he made great decisions with the puck. When you’re one of the last two guys back with the puck, you cannot make the big mistake. I thought that’s something he really limited in the second half of last year.”