Erik Johnson and Brad Stuart Defensive Pairing


The acquisition of Brad helps strengthen our blue line.  He is a proven, quality defenseman and his addition will help our team.” — Joe Sakic

Amidst the free agency hullabaloo, the Colorado Avalanche quietly acquired defenseman

Brad Stuart

from the San Jose Sharks. Executive vice president Joe Sakic has indicated he will probably be with

Erik Johnson

as the first defensive pairing.

Stuart didn’t cost much in trade — a second-round draft pick in 2016 and a sixth-round pick in 2017. Many Avalanche fans were disappointed the team didn’t acquire a “marquee” defensemen. (To their credit, they tried, but Sakic stated neither Matt Niskanen nor Brooks Orpik would even visit Colorado. If they had, they’d probably be Avalanche.) Nonetheless, according to Sakic, the Avs got exactly what they wanted.

Brad Stuart’s Playing Style

Stuart is a stay-at-home defenseman, the type of player who takes few offensive-zone risks but is big on checks and blocked shots. He’s known for his neutral-zone checks in particular.

Stuart has the ability to regularly disrupt on-coming offensive rushes. He’s a good-sized player at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. He uses that size to advantage by creating an obstacle for opposing forwards. He’s also a big hitter — as captain Gabriel Landeskog discovered to his detriment. Despite that incident, Stuart’s not dirty player, and he’s rarely seen more than 40 penalty minutes in a season.

Stuart is a good skater. According to The Hockey News, Stuart makes sound outlet passes and has a solid shot. He’s somewhat effective on the power play, but better on the penalty kill. The 34-year-old Stuart is a left-hand shot.

Detractors state he’s not a natural puck-handler. He’s not a big points producer either.

Erik Johnson’s Playing Style

More from Avalanche News

Erik Johnson is prime example of a

two-way defenseman

. He manages that balance between pinching in on the offense and protecting his zone. He’s got a bomb of a shot from the point and an accurate one-timer.

Something Johnson is especially known for is his skating. He’s a smooth, powerful skater reminiscent of a galloping horse. A big guy at 6-foot-4, 232 pounds, he’s also near-impossible to knock off his skates. In fact, many skaters such as David Backes (who’s no shrinking violet) have gone in for the check and have themselves ended up ice-bound while Johnson skates on. His transition skating is flawless.

Johnson’s repertoire includes a strong coast-to-coast play no scorer would turn his nose up at. He can effect the spin-o-rama, he can deke, he can dangle. And when he possesses the puck, it tends to stay on his stick — no matter how many opponents he goes through.

Goal vs. Edmonton Oilers:

The main flaw detractors point out is that he’s occasionally out of position. Some people question why he doesn’t indulge in more “crash and bang” style of play, considering his size.

A right-hand shot, which is a boon amongst NHL defensemen, the 26-year-old Johnson is what head coach Patrick Roy calls a “skill player.”

Comparative Analysis

“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.” — Patrick Roy

Interestingly, both Stuart and Johnson were first-round draft picks. Stuart went third-overall in the 1998 draft, while Johnson famously went first-overall in the 2006 draft. In other words, both these players got saddled with high expectations early on. I don’t know how it’s affected Stuart, but it’s been an albatross around Johnson’s neck — so much so that one of the first things Roy said to him was to forget the “first overall thing.”

In any case, being opposing shots is a boon. Hockey tactics pair lefties with righties — a fact to which Johnson himself has alluded. Johnson sees big minutes in games against the top lines and is a force on the power play. Stuart’s minutes with San Jose averaged less, but he’s capable of logging similar ice time to Johnson, though he’s unlikely to see power play time.

Both players have had ups and downs in their careers. In the 2013-14 season, Johnson matched his career-high in points with 39. His career low, though, was the previous year — only four points in 31 games, none of them goals. Stuart hit 39 points in the 2003-04 season but earned only five points in 27 games in 2006-07. Both players are split pretty evenly in the plus/minus category.

One of the biggest differences comes in their playoff experience. The 2014 playoffs were Johnson’s first. Stuart has an impressive 142 playoff games to his name.

How Johnson and Stuart Will Work Together

Truth be told, Stuart is not radically different from Johnson’s former defensive partner, Jan Hejda. The pair will likely work similarly together. Johnson will pinch in, Stuart will hold the fort. Stuart will crash and bang, Johnson will play keepaway with hapless opponents.

The big question is if Stuart can keep up with Johnson’s skating. It may not come up much — it didn’t come up a lot with Hejda. However, if coach Roy keeps with his system, requiring defensemen to pinch in, including the stay-at-home types… well, one or the other should make it back.

The other question is chemistry. Johnson and Hejda had it. When they were in sync, which was often, they transitioned like a well-oiled machine. Johnson has said he feels comfortable playing with just about anyone (as long as they’re a left-hand shot). Stuart has played with five teams besides the Avalanche over 15 years, so he probably feels the same way.

In the end, Johnson and Stuart look to make a solid defensive pairing.