Port Moody’s Kent Johnson is expected to make his NHL debut tonight (April 13) in Columbus against the Montreal Canadiens.
The 19-year-old signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets last Friday (April 8), just a day after his University of Michigan Wolverines were eliminated by the University of Denver Pioneers in their semi-final game at the NCAA Frozen Four championship tournament in Boston.
Johnson was the Blue Jackets’ first selection — fifth overall — in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, but he elected to return to Michigan for his sophomore season with the Wolverines.
He skated his first practice with his new team on Monday (April 11), taking a position on the left wing with centreman Justin Danforth and Oliver Bjorkstrand on right wing.
While Johnson played centre in minor hockey and his two seasons of junior with the Trail Smoke Eaters in the BC Hockey League, he was moved to the wing at Michigan.
Blue Jackets’ coach Brad Larsen said it makes sense for the young player to get his NHL feet wet in a familiar position.
"I think to start a kid out and ask him to take a centre position in the NHL would be pretty tough," Larsen told the website 1st Ohio Battery.
Johnson told NHL.com his first skate with his new teammates made him "pretty nervous," but he quickly settled in.
"It was really fun," Johnson said. "I felt better as the practice went on for sure."
Larsen, who kept in touch with Johnson through his second college season, said he’s confident the young prospect has the tools to be a success at the NHL level.
“You can see the skill set on Kent,” Larsen said. “He’s got some pretty good hands [and] he’s got some pace.”
Those skills served Johnson well at Michigan, where he scored eight goals and added 29 assists in 32 games this past season and was an honourable mention for the All-Big Ten awards.
He was also on Team Canada at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, scoring a goal and four assists, and at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships in Edmonton last December before that tournament was abruptly cancelled by a COVID-19 outbreak.
Prior to embarking on his college career, Johnson lit up the BCHL with 147 points in 111 games over two seasons and he was named the league’s most valuable player, top scorer and most sportsmanlike player following the 2019–20 campaign.
Johnson will be wearing jersey number 13 on the Blue Jackets, the same number he wore with the Wolverines.
The game can be viewed locally on Sportsnet Pacific, beginning at 4 p.m.