The Kent Johnson era has officially begun.
The Blue Jackets' prized 2021 first round pick arrived in Columbus on Monday and skated in his first official practice with the team.
Johnson, who just completed his sophomore season at the University of Michigan, was joined by fellow Wolverines teammate Nick Blankenburg (who signed a one-year entry level deal last week) on Nationwide Arena ice.
While he was disappointed that his Michigan team didn't clinch a national championship, Johnson couldn't wait to get started with the Blue Jackets and fulfill his NHL dream.
Happy to be here pic.twitter.com/HibBI5obTi— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) April 11, 2022
Johnson, a 19-year-old forward from Port Moody, B.C., was selected fifth overall by Columbus in the 2021 NHL Draft. Blankenburg's signing was the cherry on top of a memorable weekend, despite the disappointing Frozen Four result.
Johnson's natural position is center, but Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larsen has plans for him to start at wing.
"Yeah, I feel great about (starting on the wing)," Johnson said. "Pretty confident in my ability to play center if I need to down the road."
Johnson said it makes sense for him to start at wing, considering he played that position throughout the season at Michigan and again during the Olympics.
Larsen won't rush Johnson into playing center. A position change takes time, and the Blue Jackets are comfortable waiting until the time is right.
"He's played two years at the wing and I'm not saying he can't play center, but I'm going to start him on the wing," Larsen said. "I think that's the wise thing to do and give him a chance to get his feet wet here in a position he's familiar with.
"I think to start a kid out and ask him to take a center position in the NHL would be pretty tough."
Johnson was a standout player at Michigan and Larsen saw a glimpse of what his newest forward can bring to the table, albeit in one hour of practice on Monday.
"You can see the skillset on Kent," Larsen said. "He's got some pretty good hands, (and) he's got good pace."
First impression of newcomers pic.twitter.com/H4Eu8PJS6G— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) April 11, 2022
In two seasons with Michigan, Johnson racked up 17 goals and 47 assists for 64 points in 58 games. It's only practice, but he noticed a different pace in his first skate with the Blue Jackets – but overall, was taking it one step at a time and adjusting to his new normal.
"It was really fun, (and a) good practice," Johnson said. "That was good to just get comfortable, (and I) felt better as practice went on, for sure."
Johnson made it clear that he's ready to contribute right away and is excited to help the team win every chance he gets.
The Blue Jackets made Johnson feel welcome before even stepping on the ice.
"Just getting on the ice and working out before practice... I really felt like I was part of the team," Johnson said. "The guys seem really nice and welcoming, so they've made it easy."
Johnson said he's learned a lot at each stop of his hockey journey, including a successful NCAA career, a trip to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games with Team Canada, which makes him feel ready to jump into the NHL.
"I think everywhere I've learned something ... just little things from different guys, and I think a big one is just confidence," Johnson said. "Just staying confident and believing in yourself is going to be huge."
Kent Johnson is staying confident pic.twitter.com/eUfplqjC8o— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) April 11, 2022
For Blankenburg, it was a special experience arriving with Johnson and having that familiar face as he skated in his first NHL practice.
"It's pretty special. We were good buddies back at Michigan," Blankenburg said.
Both players made it clear they're ready to compete when called upon. It's an exciting time for the Blue Jackets as their top prospect appears poised to make his NHL debut as soon as Wednesday at Nationwide Arena, wearing No. 13 and bringing a bevy of anticipation along with him.