Are People Already Giving Up On (Still Just) 22-Year-Old Kent Johnson?

By Will Chase on June 12, 2024 at 10:15 am
Columbus Blue Jackets center Kent Johnson (91) skates with the puck against the San Jose Sharks during the third period at SAP Center at San Jose.
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

You didn’t forget about Kent Johnson did you?

Of course, you didn’t.

From being a top-five overall pick out of the University of Michigan to scoring 'The Michigan,' displaying promising dazzle throughout his NHL career spanning parts of three seasons, this is just the beginning for the 22-year-old from Port Moody, British Columbia.

In the brief start to his career, Johnson has 59 points (22 goals, 37 assists) in 130 games, with the breakout season coming in 2022-23 when he scored 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists) in 79 games.

Fresh off his 40-point campaign and expecting to see 2023-24 as a jumping-off season of sorts, instead, it was a year mired with controversy over his usage, inconsistency, and adversity as his season ended before March.

And now he's due for a new contract.

Dan Dukart wrote on Monday about the Blue Jackets' RFA glut to sort through.

Among those restricted free agents is Johnson, whose second full NHL season was cut short prematurely due to a torn labrum he suffered in the waning seconds of a loss to the New York Rangers on Feb. 28 resulting in season-ending surgery.

As Dukart mentioned, Johnson is not eligible to be offer-sheeted and thus could be a good bridge candidate. Last season, Johnson scored 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 42 games.

Despite the tough season for Johnson, he was fourth among Blue Jackets (minimum 20 games) in points/60 (1.95) according to Natural Stat Trick.

So, what’s in store for 2023-24?

Healthy scratches, reduced time on ice, and Johnson’s first AHL stint were all lightning-rod topics under first-year head coach Pascal Vincent last year. A surprise to not even play in the season-opener, Johnson took his demotion to Cleveland in early November in stride, performing admirably with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 10 games for the Cleveland Monsters.

The Monsters battle the Hershey Bears in tonight's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, having overcome a 3-0 series deficit to reach this point.

On the year in Columbus, Johnson averaged 13:33 per game, 22nd on the Blue Jackets, 11 seconds below Sean Kuraly, and six seconds more than standout rookie Dimitri Voronkov.

There were three instances in which Johnson's ice time was in the single digits, including a career-low 6:57 in a win at the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 17.

Speaking of Vincent, we should know before too long what the long-term plans are concerning his standing as head coach, as new president and general manager Don Waddell begins evaluating every phase of the organization over the coming weeks and months.

Looking like a top-five overall pick in 2022-23 and falling short of the loftier expectations last season, it's far too soon to even think about pulling the plug on the 22-year-old Johnson. But Waddell must sort out the next contract and all the pieces around Johnson.

With so many unknown factors, let's see how he performs this upcoming season.

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