Colorado Avalanche’s Offensive Erik Johnson


This post is not going to be about Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson’s offensive — read: snarky — tweets, although this preseason one is a classic:

Rather, let’s take a look at the Colorado Avalanche’s offensive defenseman, the guy who is not Tyson Barrie but is second on the team in goals. That offensive Erik Johnson.

Johnson’s Albatross

“Erik needs to be Erik Johnson.” – Patrick Roy

It always goes back to the “

first overall thing

,” as head coach Patrick Roy puts it. No one in St. Louis was ever able to forgive Erik Johnson for getting picked first overall by the team. He had a good rookie year, a great sophomore year (well, he sat out his sophomore year with a knee injury, but his actual second year of playing) and then… crickets chirp for the next few years.

See Johnson, a 19-year-old, 20-year-old, 21-year-old defenseman couldn’t be the cornerstone of the team fast enough. So St. Louis shipped him to Colorado, and to that I say “Hallalujah.” It’s not that Johnson instantly became the cornerstone defenseman everyone expected of the first-overall pick. No, he had to get forged in the Joe Sacco years. He had to spend two very formative years laboring under a coach who wanted him to be a shut down defenseman.

Naturally, Johnson’s offense dropped off. To be fair, he did learn very well the defensive side of the game at the NHL level — and that has helped him — but the style was counter to his natural talents. That’s when coach Roy took over, and told Johnson, “Forget the first overall thing. Erik needs to be Erik Johnson.”

Read about Johnson’s importance to the team:

Next: The Importance of Being EJ

Johnson’s Career Highs

Coach Roy recognized in Johnson that most precious of birds — no, not the condor that color analyst Peter McNabb compared him to, but let’s take a moment to celebrate that:

Rather, Roy recognized in Johnson a solid two-way defenseman. He saw that EJ could both shut down opponents — with his stuck-like-glue skating, with his big hits, with his sheer speed — and he could score.

In the 2013-14 season, after his career-worst season of no goals and only four assists in 31 games, Johnson matched his best year in points. That sophomore year, he played 79 games. He scored 10 goals and earned 29 assists for 39 points. Last season he also earned 39 points in 80 games with nine goals and 30 assists.

On December 29, Johnson scored a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks, his 10th of the year. It was the 35th game of the season, not even the halfway mark, and Johnson had already matched his career best in goals.

On January 8, Johnson scored against the Ottawa Senators, and surpassed his career best in goals. And it was just the halfway mark of the season.

Read about Johnson’s first goal as an Avalanche:

Next: Erik Johnson's First Avalanche Goal

Johnson’s Milestone

EJ had quite the game against the Ottawa Senators. He earned his 11th goal of the season — placing him second on the team, behind only Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla with 12 each.

Johnson said of the milestone:

"“I’m happy to help any way I can. If I hit 20, if I hit 15… As long as I’m helping the team, then I don’t care what happens. If the puck keeps going into the net, great. If it doesn’t, and we keep winning, then that’s all that matters — the score and the result at the end of the night. Hopefully I can keep it going.”"

The goal also happened to be the game winner.

Johnson also earned a penalty for hooking against Senator skater Kyle Turris.

Johnson should have earned an assist on Bobby Ryan’s third period goal, too. It’s just Ryan plays for the other team:

Johnson said of passing the puck right to Ryan, who used it to score:

"“I make that play nine out of ten times, a nice backhander to the middle. That’s a play we practice a lot. That won’t be my first pizza, and that won’t be my last pizza. It’s just one of those plays where Bobby made a good play, and I’ll hear about it on the golf course this summer from him.”"

EJ once scored on his own net when he was still playing for the St. Louis Blues, but let’s not focus on that. Instead, let’s have a look at that milestone goal, the game winner:

With that goal, Erik Johnson is tied for first place in the NHL for defensemen goals. San Jose Sharks’ Brent Burns — who spent a whole season as a forward last year — and Arizona Coyotes’ Oliver Ekman-Larsson are the other two D-men in the #1 category for goals.

Indeed, Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said of Johnson:

"“It almost looks like, when you’re watching him, that he took the expectations off himself and just goes out there and plays. It’s a lot of fun to watch. Because right now, he’s one of the best defensemen I’ve seen this year.”"

Next: Avalanche Defense Needs Johnson

The best praise came from coach Roy himself, who stated Johnson should be a shoe-in for the All Star Games, adding, “He’s been our best player all year.”

The Avalanche’s best player — not their best defenseman, their best player. High praise indeed.

So, while Johnson himself questions the validity of judging defensemen on their offensive talents, he is making his mark in that category just the same.