Colorado Avalanche to Get Boost in Erik Johnson’s Return

Mar 18, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6) skates against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Colorado Avalanche won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 18, 2016; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6) skates against the Calgary Flames during the second period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Colorado Avalanche won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche are set to get their best defenseman back as Erik Johnson returns from a 35-game hiatus after suffering a broken leg in a game.


Sorry, but sometimes only shouting will do. And the Colorado Avalanche are about to get their best defenseman back from injury.

On December 8, 2016, Johnson blocked a Tyler Seguin slapshot. He didn’t know it right away, but it had broken his fibula, the small bone in the lower half of the leg. During a post-practice presser, Johnson described the situation:

"“I just thought, ‘Get up and try to finish your shift,’ and was able to get the puck out on the penalty kil. I knew something was wrong, I had some weird sensations. When I got back to the training room, they asked me to put some weight on it, and there was some clicking going on. It just didn’t feel right. I got the X-ray and it was pretty obvious right away that it was broken.”"

As we’ve noted previously, Johnson finished his shift on a broken leg. Here’s the play:

Defensive teammate Fedor Tyutin, remarked that that has been Erik Johnson‘s formula for rehabilitating his leg:

"“For the last two months he’s been the first guy here at the rink, and the last guy to leave.”"

That diligence has paid off. Today he participated in a full practice in a burgundy jersey.  Johnson is on the Avalanche’s single-game road trip to Nashville. He’s going to skate with the team again tomorrow before the game. He’ll also get in one more practice.

How he does in those skates and practices will determine when he returns. As of right now, though, Johnson is sure his return will take place against the Buffalo Sabres at home:

"“I’m going to play on Saturday. I’m going to get a couple more skates in, assuming all goes well, come off the IR and play Saturday at home.”"

He sounds determined to make it back. However, he’s not risking anything. He knows he’ll be sore, but he’s waiting to make 100% sure that he won’t do any more damage to the bone.

Johnson’s teammates are looking forward to having him back in the lineup. After Monday’s practice Mikko Rantanen called him “one of the best defensemen in the league,” noting that his presence was definitely missed.

Center Nathan MacKinnon elaborated:

"“He is very focused. EJ, I think he’s a guy that is a leader on the team because he takes care of himself on and off the ice. He is a big presence in the room for us and on the ice especially. He’s 6′ 5″ and is really physical. When he’s out there, other teams take notice and so do we.”"

Even Jared Bednar is singing EJ’s praises:

"“We all know the role that he plays on our team, and he’s been out for a significant length of time. He’s a guy that can handle a lot of ice time, so as his legs start to feel better and he gets his timing back and gets in some games, it’s a lot of minutes that we can use him in our lineup back there.”"

Well, I think he’s trying to say that Johnson’s eating up important minutes has been sorely missed.

As MacKinnon pointed out, one thing that’s really been missing with Erik out is his leadership. He’s a glue-of-the-team kind of guy. If you’re in with EJ, you’re in.

An example of Erik Johnson’s leadership comes in his acknowledgement that the season is a wash:

"“I wish we were in a different situation, but every time you put on the Avalanche jersey, you have to have a big sense of pride. Any time you step on the ice in the NHL, it means something. So no matter what situation you are in as a team, you have to go out and play your hardest no matter what.”"

I can tell you, I’ve been an Erik Johnson fan since he got traded to the Colorado Avalanche from the St. Louis Blues six years ago to almost to the day. That even-keel, pragmatic but hopeful attitude has always been in evidence.

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Over the years, I’ve watched him grow (though I’m not convinced he grew the inch MacKinnon credits him with) and mature into a natural team leader. I’ve seen him take charge in practices and serve as a liaison between players and coaches and players and officials.

I’ve often thought of Johnson as captain Gabriel Landeskog‘s right-hand man. He can be the critical party — not as outspoken as Cody McLeod used to be, but the kind of guy who can look you right in the face and tell you what’s what. And you’d feel ok with it because he’s so even-keel.

Erik Johnson has had to overcome a fair amount of disappointment in his career. Some people have called him a first-overall bust. He’s an Olympian and a World Cupper, but there have been disappointments there, too. He’s only appeared in one playoff series, but his showing was one of the strongest. (At the conclusion of the 2013-14 Why Not Us season.)

Next: Injury to Insult: Nikita Zadorov Out

The point is, the Colorado Avalanche are closing out what’s possible the most disappointing season in team history. The players have been demoralized, and so have the fans. Personally, I’ve just been so sad.

That’s why getting Erik Johnson back now, while it means nothing for the playoffs, means everything to Avs Nation.