Erik Johnson has carried an immense pressure on his shoulders for a long time now: USA Hockey prodigy, number one overall pick in the 2006 Draft, franchise defenseman. Johnson’s elite potential has never been questioned by scouts, fans, or his teammates; throughout his eight-year career, it seems like Erik himself is finally realizing just how elite a player he truly can be…if he wants to be.
It’s shocking to think that Erik has been with the organization for over three seasons now, coming to Denver in the blockbuster Shattenkirk/Stewart trade with the St. Louis Blues. Johnson’s role thus far in the top-four has been as a shutdown defenseman with a Howitzer of a slap shot. Patrick Roy‘s arrival on the Avalanche bench was an incredibly influential factor for a number of players on the team, but I would argue no one player on the Avalanche roster did more to change his stars this year than Erik Johnson. Back in September, this is what Roy had to say about his talented blueliner:
I had a great conversation with Erik. Honestly, I’m confident he’s going to have a really good year. The thing is, we’re going to work really hard with him to ‘don’t live in the past.’ It’s now. Don’t worry about the ‘first overall’ thing. Don’t worry where people say ‘first overall pick’ – it’s over. We want you to be who you are. Erik needs to be Erik Johnson. Go hard, go out there and play his game and be himself. That’s what I want to see from him. We’re going to try and bring a lot of confidence to his game. Yes, we want him to play better defensively. But we don’t want to take away his offensive skills, because he’s got good offensive skills.
Roy’s comments perfectly foreshadow Johnson’s impressive season. For the past few years, Avs fans and coaches alike were practically screaming at Johnson to be more involved in the offense; this season he finally responded with a fantastic 9-30-39 line. It was his best season in years, as we saw him bloom into the offensive threat he has been too timid to be thus far in his career. Johnson is 6’4″, 232 lbs, but he moves like a deer on skates, giving the Avalanche a key weapon whenever he jumps into the play or crashes the net. The play below is a great example of the assertiveness Johnson consistently played with this year. Not many defensemen in the NHL can gracefully skate in from the blue line, weave between multiple defenders, and finish like Erik does here. Hopefully this is the start to the second half of his career as the true franchise defenseman that the Colorado Avalanche traded for three years ago!