Three Questions Ahead of the 2023-24 Season: Kent Johnson

By Coby Maeir on July 12, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Kent Johnson (91) shoots the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the second period at Scotiabank Arena.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
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Kent Johnson, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, had a promising rookie season with the Blue Jackets in 2022-23, scoring 16-24--40 in 79 games. The 20-year-old finished 5th in rookie scoring and showed promise of being an NHL superstar. 

Here are three questions to ask heading into Johnson's second full NHL season. 

How many points will he score in year two?

In 2022-23, Johnson was fourth among Blue Jackets forwards in ice time at 1146:48, which included 1007:03 of even-strength TOI and 139:27 on the power play. On a per-game basis, that's 14:31 total, 12:45 at even strength, and 1:46 on the power play. Additionally, Johnson played 12:10 per game at five-on-five and scored 9-15--24, computing to 1.50 five-on-five points per 60 minutes.

Heading into 2023-24, several questions must be answered before giving a good answer to the main question above. Who will his linemates be? How much ice time will he receive? 

If he plays a top-six role for the majority of the season and plays closer to 16 minutes a game with increased power-play time, there's no reason he can't score around 60-65 points, with the potential to score even more. 

When will he sign his next contract and what will it look like?

As of July 1, 2023, Johnson is eligible to sign an extension that kicks in for the 2024-25 season. Johnson is set to be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2023-24 season, but general manager Jarmo Kekalainen didn't seem in a rush to get anything done yet when speaking to the media ahead of the NHL Draft.

"I've always believed that players got to earn their long-term contracts and their long-term money," Kekalainen said. "And he's had a great first season and now we want him to do it again."

If Kekalainen's words are any indication, the extension may not happen until the middle of the season or even after the season is over. That way, both parties have a bigger sample size of production. Depending on how Johnson plays this year, that sample size will benefit one of the negotiating parties significantly more than the other. 

Will the two parties agree on a bridge deal or a long-term contract? What will the cap hit be? How will the rising salary cap affect this negotiation? These questions will all be answered soon enough.

Will Johnson play center this season?

While he was drafted as a center, Johnson played on the wing for the majority of the season. The center position is already crowded with Adam Fantilli, Boone Jenner, Jack Roslovic, Cole Sillinger, Dmitri Voronkov, and Sean Kuraly, so it may make sense to just leave Johnson on the wing for now. However, if the coaching staff believes he's ready to play center, that's not a bad option either. Where he plays in training camp will give a better indication of what's to come this season but if he's going to play center, it'll be interesting to see how he plays and adjusts throughout the year.

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