Erik Johnson could be on pace for a career season.
The Colorado Avalanche as a team seem bound and determined to under-perform. It’s not just that their record (4-9-1) is disappointing, it’s that their play has been frustrating. They never seem to be able to get all aspects of their game going at the same time.
A couple core players seem to be succeeding despite the team’s overall lack. One of them is center Nathan MacKinnon. The other is defenseman Erik Johnson.
Erik Johnson Statistics
Erik Johnson matched his career high of 39 points during the fabled 2013-14 season. Despite the surgery that limited him to 47 games during the 2014-15 season, Johnson surpassed his career high goals with 12.
This season Johnson has played in all 14 games. In those games he’s earned three goals and three assists and is a -1. (No Avalanche defenseman is in the plus category.) He’s dead even on turnover plus-minus.
Erik Johnson’s Current Role
Last year Erik Johnson led all Avalanche players in ice time with around 24 minutes per game on average. This season he’s averaging 22.21 minutes per game. Both Barrie (22.64) and Beauchemin (23.36) have edged him out slightly.
The reason for Beauchemin’s team-leading ice time is unclear to me. He led the Anaheim Ducks in ice time last season — maybe he just lingers on the ice.
Tyson Barrie gets a lot more power play time than Johnson, and he’s the player head coach Patrick Roy puts on the ice when the Avalanche are trailing. The Avalanche have been trailing a lot this season.
Erik Johnson, though, sees the lion’s share of penalty killing time. He also gets a lot of defensive zone starts. He is the Colorado Avalanche’s #1 defenseman, and coach Roy wants him for defense.
Besides his on-ice role, Erik Johnson is one of the leaders on the team. I’ve seen him serve as a liaison between the team and the officials during games. I’ve seen him mentor players in practice. And he’s certainly been vocal with the media.
One aspect of the game he identifies as needing improvement is taking shots on goal. This is a player who puts his money — or his stick work — where his mouth is. He’s tied for third on the team for shots taken, sharing that spot with Jarome Iginla and Matt Duchene.
Remember, Erik Johnson’s not an offensive defenseman getting much power play time or many offensive zone starts. His matching top-six forwards in shots taken means he’s out there working hard every game.
Speaking of Erik Johnson working hard, let’s take a moment to celebrate what happens when you drive the puck up the ice to take a shot:
Or even when you commit to taking shots during the penalty kill:
Can Erik Johnson Have a Career Season?
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Right now Erik Johnson is on pace to exceed his goal total — he could potentially earn 15 this season if he stays healthy. He’s not exactly on pace to earn career points, though, at 35 total potential.
Erik Johnson sees the big minutes against the toughest opponents. However, he’s also often on the ice when the Avalanche’s top-six are playing. If the top-six start scoring like they should, Johnson’s assists total can start going up — he’s creating tons of rebounds with all those shots.
Even if Erik Johnson doesn’t match his overall career totals this season, he’s definitely living up to the potential promised by his long-term contract extension. To be blunt, he’s one of the few core players worthy of the Avalanche logo in my eyes right now.
Johnson also has the skill, talent and leadership to fire up the team. When they manage to turn the season around, I have no doubt he’ll be a prime catalyst.