The Second City Hockey staff will be profiling players who could be available at the No. 11 spot in the 2021 NHL Draft, where the Blackhawks will make their first-round selection. The draft starts Friday, June 23.
The Blackhawks (and every team in the NHL, let’s be real) are always on the search for a Patrick Kane-like player — someone with show-stopping dynamic to their offensive game. The comparison to Kane is applied too liberally to young players and it’s not a perfect application to anyone in the 2021 NHL draft either, but center/winger Kent Johnson may be the closest.
Age: 18 (Jan. 30, 2003)
Hometown: North Vancouver, BC, CAN
Weight: 167 pounds
Team: Univ. of Michigan (NCAA)
NHL Central Scouting (NHL): No. 3 North American skater
Elite Prospects: No. 10
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): No. 2
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): No. 6
Cam Robinson (Dobber Prospects): No. 9
Craig Button (TSN): No. 14
Johnson is one of the — if not the — most electrifying players in the draft, which has led to his offense just skyrocketing over the years. At age 17, he had a dominant season with the Trail Smoke Eaters in the BCHL, producing 101 points (41 G, 60 A) in 52 regular season games with seven points (one goal, six assists) in four playoff games. That’s when it became apparent that Johnson is practically a video game come to life.
Opting to play in the NCAA rather than the CHL, Johnson was over a point-per-game player as a freshman at Michigan with 27 points (9 G, 18 A) in 26 games. He split his time between center and wing, though played the latter more after being paired with center Matthew Berniers, another top 2021 draft prospect. This line pairing and position switch allowed Johnson to really focus on the offensive side of his game, which only seemed to get better.
Again, comparisons to Kane shouldn’t be made lightly, but seeing Johnson’s NCAA highlight reels will help anyone understand why they come up often in his scouting reports (along with Elias Pettersson of Vancouver and Mitch Marner of Toronto). His assist rate feels like it should have been higher than the tracked data (see above) shows, but — honestly — some of his best passing couldn’t be handled by his teammates. Either way, Johnson showed he is a magician with the puck who has game-breaking passing talent and high hockey IQ who can also slow the game down to make masterful plays.
While Johnson’s puck handling and playmaking may be his top rated assets, his scoring ability is no joke either. He has a quick release, a generally accurate shot and is often deceptive when shooting. He actually scored two Michigan goals this past season as well, so he’s willing to take risks and has the hand skills to pull it off. Johnson is also better on his backhand than most players are on their forehand. Again, sounds familiar, right? Watch this highlight goal and tell me that’s not a Showtime backhand:
No disrespect to Lysell, or Guenther, or any of the rest but the list of forwards in the 2021 class who can make this play at speed starts and ends with Kent Johnson: pic.twitter.com/xsapetlnIf— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) December 9, 2020
As for his skating, Johnson is decently fast though not an explosive skater that’s going to wow with pure straight-line speed. Corey Pronman from the Athletic noted Johnson’s “game can lack pace,” which can be seen in his skating at times. However, Johnson can adjust speeds or change directions effortlessly with impressive edgework, which he combines with stickhandling to make opposing players look ridiculous regularly.
The main drawbacks to Johnson are related to strength and defense. He’s not necessarily a liability defensively, but it’s also not his strong suit. He is great at stripping opposing players of the puck and uses smart stick play when he is engaged, though. Johnson does need to add more strength if he wants to transition to higher leagues effectively. He also has to be careful not to do too much on his own: he can force passes or over handle the puck —sometime to disastrous results — but that’s something that experience can correct.
This may seem like hype, but Johnson has arguably the biggest potential from the 2021 NHL draft to be a star in the NHL. So why would such talent potentially be available at No. 11? Despite the comparison, he’s not where Kane or Petterson were in their pre-draft season in terms of NHL readiness, so patience would be key. He also lacks a certain well-roundedness of his comparables and may be prone to more mistakes due to his eagerness to be creative. For more perspective on Johnson, check out the profile done by sibling site All About the Jersey.
Johnson has played both center and wing, but the latter is what he’ll likely translate to in the NHL. That’s fine for the Blackhawks, considering they have zero elite playmaking wingers in the organization beyond Kane (unless you count Dylan Strome but he’s neither a natural winger nor does it seem like he’s long for the organization).
Don’t get me wrong, the Blackhawks have some wingers in-system who are solid playmakers but none with that game-breaking level of talent in terms of passing. Players like Alex DeBrincat, Pius Suter, and Philipp Kurashev — who played wing this past season or project to be better suited as a winger long-term — are above-average playmakers but lack the creativity to place them into the elite category. Prospect Lukas Reichel, if he ends up playing wing in the NHL, falls into the same bucket as the trio above as very good but not necessarily a consistent generator of highlight-reel moments. Alex Nylander may possibly be the closest in terms of raw skills, but his consistency leaves much to be desired.
If Johnson ends up being the Blackhawks’ first-round pick, he’d easily be the most exciting playmaker the Blackhawks have drafted since Teuvo Teräväinen in 2012.