We’re taking a break from talking about defensemen to talk about... well would you look at that, it’s another Michigan Wolverine. In these draft talks, Owen Power and Matty Beniers have been getting a lot of love, deservedly, but they have another teammate who’s eligible for this draft and probably deserves to have a bit more hype himself.
Kent Johnson had, in short, a really stellar freshman season with Michigan. He finished the season 12th in scoring in the conference, and second among freshman, behind teammate Thomas Bordeleau. It took a bit of time to adjust, but he was a real impact player for the Wolverines this season, and pretty quickly asserted himself as one of the most dynamic playmakers on an already highly skilled team. He was effective in his role, and was certainly worth the price of admission.
BSH 2021 Community Draft Board, No. 8: Kent Johnson
Team: University of Michigan (NCAA)
Statistics: 9 G, 18 A in 26 GP
No. 3 (NA skaters) by NHL Central Scouting
No. 9 by Future Considerations
No. 10 by Dobber Prospects
No. 2 by Wheeler/The Athletic (midseason)
What’s there to like?
It really isn’t a stretch to say that Johnson is one of the most, if not the most, pure skilled player in this draft. His offensive toolkit is just so good. He has a quick, accurate shot, and he’s able to sneak it through traffic, but he also flexes good hands in tight, is able to get some heat on a slapshot, and has even brought a little fearlessness in attempting a Michigan goal this season. You name it, he can do it, there’s quite a bit of variety there.
His passing game, though, is his real strength—Johnson is just a really stellar playmaker. He can make quick passes right on the tape, and the thing is, when you’re playing with him, you always have to be ready to receive that pass. It can look like there’s nothing available to him and he’s just out of options, but then he pulls a spin move or a between the legs pass through traffic, and suddenly your chances are alive again. Johnson’s a pretty constant offensive threat, and his creativity really seems to know no bounds.
And indeed, in some ways it feels a little surprising to see a player as slight as him put on a one-man puck possession clinic in the offensive zone, but that’s something we do see from him quite often. He isn’t an absolute burner, but he does have quite good overall speed, but you really see his in-tight quickness stand out, and that’s a real asset there. He cuts well and can spin away from defenders quickly, and that makes him very elusive, and in turn that helps him to be really strong on pucks, despite his frame.
With all of this noted, it really isn’t a surprise that Johnson drives both a considerable bit of individual offense, but also a good bit for his line, as well. Indeed, per my tracking, Johnson graded out as the Wolverines’ strongest play driver, as the team posted a stellar 73.13 Corsi-For%, 78.21 Scoring Chances-For%, and 82.61 High Danger Chances-For% with him on the ice at 5-on-5. He also served as one of Michigan’s volume shooters, leading the team in individual shot attempts (32), scoring chances (21), and high danger chances (11) at 5-on-5 over a 10 game sample tracked.
His offensive merits are pretty unquestionable, but another area where we really saw him stand out this season was in transition. It’s interesting, in same ways, that while he spent most of the season playing alongside Beniers—who we know to be a real force in transition—Johnson more than held his own in this department as well. Indeed, also per my tracking, he actually also led the team in both zone entry attempts (166) and completed zone entries (147) at 5-on-5 over a 22 game sample. And while his rate of Controlled Entries wasn’t as strong as Beniers’s (67.35 percent versus 73.95 percent), his individual rate was still very impressive. There’s a distinct confidence to his game, he isn’t deferential on zone entries, and isn’t afraid to use his own skating skill to move the puck up-ice for his line and get them set up in the offensive zone himself.
It’s also worth noting that despite his profile as a high skilled offensive player, he is still quite defensively responsible. You obviously won't see him laying massive hits, but he’s attentive to plays and pressures well on the forecheck, and his instincts help him to anticipate plays to break up before they become very dangerous, and that’s a real added boost to his game.
What’s not to like?
The most obvious bit would probably be his size. He’s 6’1” but only 165 pounds, and he really looks it. And this isn’t to say that he was getting absolutely pushed around at all times at the college level, but there are definitely times when he’s just been physically outmatched, and there’s not much you can do there. He’ll continue to work on putting on some weight and adding strength as he progresses in his college career—we already saw him looking stronger from the start of his freshman season to the end—but it’s likely that, given his frame, he’s always going to be on the slighter side. Should that be a deal breaker? No, but it does mean that he’s going to have to work extra hard to improve his functional strength, as well as elusiveness.
And then the other piece that could use a little more work is puck management. Generally, Johnson is a pretty responsible player, but like we see with a lot of highly skilled, highly creative players, sometimes he can get caught trying to do too much and then get himself into trouble. We definitely don’t want to see him toning down his creativity, because that’s exactly what makes him so effective, but he just needs to work on choosing his spots a little better, and working to limit some of the risk.
How would he fit in the Flyers’ system?
Though he spent most of the season playing on the wing, Johnson is a natural center (he played a couple of games at center for Michigan while Matty Beniers as at World Juniors, and did find some success in that time), and that certainly is a position of need in the Flyers’ system. It remains something of an open question whether Johnson is going to stick at center or wing when he makes the jump to the pros, but the positional flexibility is certainly a good thing, and if the Flyers could develop him as a center, that would be a huge asset.
But regardless of what position he sticks as, he adds a level of dynamic skill that the Flyers are pretty short on, at this point. The plays he makes are just unreal to watch, but he also does a lot of little things right. He drives play well, is excellent in transition, and the way that he’s able to manufacture offense is pretty remarkable. That would be a really nice injection of skill up front, and that’s a hard thing to pass up.
Could the Flyers actually get him?
We’re going to put this one down as a maybe. There’s some real variance in these projections for where Johnson could be taken, and that certainly makes things interesting. He's one that, silly as it may be, we could see slip because of teams getting scared off by his size. And if that’s the case, he very well could fall into the range where the Flyers either would only have to move up a bit to get him, or he just plain falls to them at 13. This is going to be a weird one, but them getting him certainly isn’t out of the question.
We’ll make one addition to the poll:
Aatu Räty — C, Kärpät (Liiga)
Raty is a strong, fast center with a powerful stride, a pro frame, and quick hands. He’s at his best when he’s driving the middle lane in transition, attacking confidently off of the wall inside the offensive zone, and working off of the puck to forecheck and win back possession. He’s capable of playing with a lot of pace and attacking the interior. - Scott Wheeler, The Athletic
Who should be no. 9 on the 2021 BSH Community Draft Board?
This poll is closed
2021 BSH Community Draft Board
- Owen Power — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
- Matthew Beniers — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
- Brandt Clarke — D, Nove Zamky (Slovakia)
- Dylan Guenther — LW/RW, Edmonton (WHL)
- William Eklund — C/LW, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
- Luke Hughes — D, US NTDP (USHL) and US National U18 (USDP)
- Simon Edvinsson — D, Frölunda HC J20 (J20 Nationell), Västerås IK (HockeyAllesvenskan), Frölunda HC (SHL)
- Kent Johnson — C/LW, University of Michigan (NCAA)