Colorado Avalanche Erik Johnson’s Roller Coaster Career


Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson has not been dealt a bad hand by the hockey gods. He’s a talented athlete.  He says he loves hockey, that it’s “fun.” Hockey’s also something that he gets to make good money doing. (~$4 mil) No, that’s not a bad hand at all.

On the other hand, his career has been on a roller coaster ever since he joined the NHL.

Erik Johnson’s Backstory

Johnson was always a star player growing up. He participated in the U.S. National Team Development Program from the time he was 16.

He also represented the United States in several international competitions as a youngster:

  •  2005 World U17 Hockey Challenge
  • 2005 World Under-18 Championships (gold medal)
  • 2006 World Under–18 championships (gold medal)
  • 2007 World U20 World Championships (bronze medal)

Johnson earned 10 points in six games at the 2006 competitions and got selected as the Bob Johnson Award winner as the Best American player in International competition.

In the 2007 games, he earned four goals and six assists and became the first defenseman to lead the world tournament in scoring. He earned a spot on the U20 All Star Team.

All of that helped him get selected as the first-overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues. He was only the second U.S, defenseman to get chosen first overall in the NHL draft.

Erik Johnson and the Blues

Johnson played a year of college hockey for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. In 41 games he earned four goals and 20 assists. The following year, 2007-08, he went pro with the St. Louis Blues. He had a great rookie year, earning six goals and 28 assists in 69 games.

Johnson sustained a bizarre knee injury during a team golf tournament on September 16, 2008. His right foot got stuck between the pedals of a golf cart, and he tore both his MCL and ACL ligaments in his knee. He ended up having to undergo surgery, which kept him out for the entire 2008-09 season. At the time there were rumors that he’d been playing golf cart polo. The kid was 20 at the time, so…

Anyway, when he returned for the 2009-10 season, he had a career-setting season of earning 39 points in 79 games. He also got back on track with his international play, representing the United States in the 2010 Olympics. He won a silver medal.

For awhile that seemed to be the pinnacle of his career. His third season of playing, he fell out of the favor with the Blues. The team was doing poorly and wanted to change things up, and Johnson became part of a late night trade on February 22, 2011. Here’s how Johnson himself explained the situation:

The season wasn’t that bad for Johnson. He had five goals and 14 assists with the Blues. He earned an additional 10 points with the Avalanche, three goals and seven assists. Indeed, his first goal as an Avalanche player was against the Blues.

Next: Erik Johnson's first goal as an Avalanche

The Joe Sacco Years

The Joe Sacco Years were tough years for the Avalanche. The first year that Johnson joined them, they earned only 68 points and were second-to-last in the Northwest Division. Those are Buffalo Sabres numbers. The next season the Avs earned 88 points but didn’t qualify for the playoffs. In the 2012-13 lockout year, the Avalanche earned just 39 points in 48 games and finished dead-last in the Western Conference.

Johnson’s career followed a similar pattern. The 2011-12 season was decent for Johnson. He earned 26 points in 73 games. However, coach Joe Sacco wanted him to play shut-down defense, which is very much counter to Johnson’s style. He bombed his 2012-13 season, earning just four assists and no goals in 31 games.

By that point, it was being stated quite openly that Erik Johnson was a bust, a waste of a first-overall draft pick.

The Roller Coaster Continues

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In 2013,

Patrick Roy

took over as head coach for the Colorado Avalanche. One of the first things he did was talk to Johnson, advising him to “forget the first overall thing.” He exhorted Johnson to just go out and play his game.

Johnson did just that. He, along with the entire team, blossomed under Roy’s tutelage. He matched his career best in points by earning 39, a feat he hadn’t matched since the 2009-10 Olympic year.

2013-14 was another Olympic year, but, lo and behold, there was the new dip in the coaster — Johnson didn’t get selected to represent the U.S. in the Olympics. He’d represented his country so often in international competitions, but he got snubbed.

Just as that was going on, he received his first-ever suspension for a borderline play. By that point, even Avalanche fans were calling him a bust.

Personally, I saw something radically different. I saw a wildly talented and skilled player who’d gotten a bad rap attached to his reputation.

This year it looked as if the curse had finally been lifted. Johnson was flourishing under coach Roy’s system. Even as the rest of the team was floundering, at least on and off, Johnson was quietly besting his career highs. By the halfway mark of the season he already had 12 goals and was tied for first among all defensemen for goals. Coach Roy had called him the best player on the team, and his name was in the Norris Trophy conversation.

Then he got named as the Colorado Avalanche’s sole representative to the All Star weekend. Everything was coming up EJ.

Now the Avalanche have announced that Johnson cannot participate in the All Star weekend because of a “lower body” injury.

That simply leaves me asking, why are the hockey gods meddling with Erik Johnson’s career? And when are they finally going to stop?

Next: Why is Erik Johnson Missing the ASG?