By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Two things about Jack Johnson.
One: Jack Johnson is pretty much built for the playoffs.
Not just his skill set, which is significant and expansive, but his joie de vivre, his rambunctious, take-no-prisoners style.
Two: Jack Johnson is pretty much built for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
As the Blue Jackets' curious, up-and-down, back-and-forth first-round series against the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins heads into Game 4 Wednesday night, Johnson has reinforced both hypotheses.
"I would just say [he's a] machine. He's a different bird, man. On and off the ice, he's just a thoroughbred and he's always in the gym," Columbus forward Cam Atkinson told ESPN.com Tuesday. "You can tell he's elevated his game tremendously in this playoff series and he's been one of our best players, if not our best player. It's great to see and hopefully he can keep playing the way he's been playing."
I've known the smooth-skating, hard-hitting defenseman a long time. I dug up an old piece I wrote in August 2005 not long before he would be selected third overall in the draft, as the NHL tried to dig itself out from its season-long lockout. At the time, Johnson talked about what he hoped would be a long future in the NHL and about visits with former classmate Sidney Crosby to Crosby's hometown of Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia. He talked about the joy of playing driveway hockey with his little brother, Kenny.
Now, many, many miles later, Johnson is playing against Crosby in the Blue Jackets' second-ever playoff appearance. And his brother Kenny is playing at Johnson's alma mater Shattuck-St. Mary's, the famous hockey prep school in Minnesota that both he and Crosby attended.
This weekend, the younger Johnson will be in Columbus on a recruiting visit with Ohio State, something that gives his older brother, a standout at the University of Michigan, mixed feelings.
"Obviously, I'd love for him to go to Michigan, but they better get on it if they want him to go there. But wherever he goes I'll be thrilled for him. It's about him, not me," Johnson said Tuesday.
"We keep in touch a lot, see how he's doing. It's interesting how the relationship's evolved as he's gotten older. I can talk to him about more things. He's a lot bigger than I am. He's going to be a lot stronger than me soon. I kind of phased out wrestling from our relationship. I'm afraid for that day when he's going to pin me," Johnson said with a laugh.
In describing the differences between the two brothers' styles, Johnson jokingly suggests that he is a "skate first, ask questions later" kind of guy.
It has always been so.
The fact that Johnson landed in Columbus appears to have been a fortuitous twist of fate for both the player and the franchise.
When things went south in the relationship with the Carolina Hurricanes -- the team that drafted him two spots after his pal Crosby was taken first overall by Pittsburgh in 2005 -- Johnson ended up with the Los Angeles Kings. Then, he was dealt again at the 2012 trade deadline, this time for sniper Jeff Carter, who had essentially gone into the fetal position for weeks after finding out he'd been dealt to Columbus by the Philadelphia Flyers.
Carter didn't embrace the slow rebuild going on in Columbus, but Johnson seemingly couldn't wait. And that has not been lost on those who follow the game in Columbus, nor on his teammates.
Team president John Davidson was still with the St. Louis Blues when the trade was consummated and Johnson's positive reaction to the deal, even though it meant leaving a Stanley Cup contender, struck a chord with Davidson from afar.
That feeling has only been reinforced since Davidson joined the Blue Jackets' front office.
"It's very much appreciated in the community," Davidson said. "He's just hockey."
Even though this has been a difficult season in some respects, Johnson has been a pivotal part of the franchise's critically important evolution from "promise" to "playoff presence."
In the first three games of this series, Johnson has been a force, scoring in each game and adding an assist. His third-period goal in Game 2 set the stage for overtime and helped send the Blue Jackets to their first-ever playoff victory.
"Jack has been very good down the stretch and he's been very good in these first three games," head coach Todd Richards said Tuesday. "He plays like a man out on the ice. His skating, he can log the big minutes. He played close to 40 minutes in the overtime game in Game 2 and they're big minutes, tough minutes against the opposition's [best players]. You know he's playing against Crosby or [Evgeni] Malkin most of the night. Penalty killer, he's one of the first guys over the boards and he plays the power play, so every situation.
"He's a real important piece for our team, not only what he brings out on the ice and how he plays and being able to handle big strong guys that can skate, but I think he's got a lot of respect in the room from his peers in just how he plays out on the ice and he's a guy that takes care of himself. He's in the weight room, he's doing the right things. He's been a real key, key guy for us down the stretch."
Early in the season, things didn't go all that well for either Johnson or the Blue Jackets. While most would have presumed he was a lock to make the U.S. Olympic team for the Sochi Games, it didn't turn out that way. Johnson's early-season struggles combined with the evolution of young defenders Cam Fowler, Kevin Shattenkirk, John Carlson and Justin Faulk ultimately saw Johnson left off the squad.
It was among the most gut-wrenching, hotly debated decisions encountered by the U.S. selection committee.
Yet as the Olympics approached, Johnson's game turned around and he became a central figure in Columbus' surprising run to secure the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
"He's taken it to another level offensively. You can tell," teammate Mark Letestu said. "I saw this from him right after the Olympic team was named; Jack took it to another level maybe with a chip on his shoulder, and I believe now he's playing the same way. He's got that chip on his shoulder and he's got something to prove."
Ron Wilson coached Johnson at the 2009 world championships and at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when the U.S. earned a silver medal, losing to Canada in overtime in the gold-medal game.
Wilson admitted he was surprised Johnson wasn't selected to play in Sochi, but what hasn't surprised Wilson is Johnson's level of play when it matters most.
"This year must have been devastating for him," Wilson told ESPN.com Tuesday. "Only a guy with his character could have bounced back to play the way he has."
Although Wilson admitted he thought Johnson might come across as cocky when they first met, the opposite was true.
"He was completely different than what I thought he was like," Wilson said. "He's a total hockey junkie. He can't get enough of it."
The longtime NHL coach said he thinks Johnson is playing with control, making good first passes and using his deceptively strong body to make life uncomfortable for the top Penguins forwards such as Crosby and Malkin -- both of whom are scoreless in the series.
Johnson figures his game really went up a notch back in early December.
"Yeah, I think from December on pretty much my game's where I wanted it to be," he said. "Just having fun playing. Happy with things. Things have fortunately been going well since pretty much Dec. 1 on."
As for the fit in Columbus, he couldn't be happier.
"I don't think I've changed at all since I've been here," Johnson said. "I'm just the same guy, I think, same guy that came out of college. I just ended up in a different city, just different place, different atmosphere. It's worked out great for me. I couldn't be happier here and it's been a great fit for me."
Home is a relative thing when you're a pro hockey player, but there is obviously a high comfort level for Johnson with this team and his role on it.
"Absolutely. It definitely feels like home to me," the 27-year-old said. "I spend the offseason in Michigan and I spend the winters in Columbus. A lot of people give me a hard time about that, but it's worked out ideal for me."
Ideal, too, for a franchise that needed a player to want to be here.
"He comes to work every day and plays hard," Davidson said. "And we have a lot of young players around and they see that. The torch gets passed the right way with guys like Jack Johnson."
Cam Atkinson totally has a crush on JMFJ hahaha. I really think he wouldn't mind too much if Kenny goes to OSU because it will make it much easier to stalk him. :(
Johnson set to jump out of Crosby's shadow
By Scott Burnside | Special to ESPN.com
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- "Overshadow" doesn't completely describe what Sidney Crosby has done to the rest of the 2005 NHL draft class. Obliterate? Eclipse? Black hole?
But within the great shadow cast by the Canadian phenom, there are players whose NHL futures are every bit as rosy as Crosby's. One of them is American defenseman Jack Johnson, who has been a close friend of Crosby's since the two were young high schoolers in Minnesota and who has been visiting Crosby in his hometown of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, leading up to the draft.
Do the two of them get recognized when they're at the local Tim Hortons coffee shop?
"Everywhere we go, stopping in at Tim's to get a coffee, someone's always stopping him to ask for his autograph," he said. "I'm just the guy next to him."
That kind of anonymity isn't new to Johnson, but it might become a part of his past Saturday, when he likely will be selected with the second overall pick by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
"He's probably as physically gifted a player as there is in this draft," said David Quinn, Johnson's former coach with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program and now an assistant coach at Boston University. "He's so agile on his skates. He's got great lateral movement. All he wants to do is be a great player."
At 6-foot-1, 201 pounds, the 18-year-old Johnson has been compared to Scott Stevens and Denis Potvin. His heavy shot is outweighed only by his heavy hitting. As a 17-year-old, Johnson played above his age group and helped the U.S. Under-18 team to a silver medal at the 2004 World Championships. Earlier this spring, Johnson and the U-18 team completed a dramatic undefeated run through the 2005 tournament with a 5-1 thumping of Canada in the gold medal game.
Johnson flew under the radar, given the MVP performance turned in by U.S. forward Phil Kessel (16 points in six games), yet the well-spoken blueliner is considered by scouting services, including the NHL's Central Scouting and the independent Red Line Report, as the top defenseman in the draft.
"If Jack Johnson was a Canadian, north of the border they would be singing his praises. He'd be a highly visible player," said Ken Martel, director of player personnel for the National Team Development Program.
But you won't find anything approaching envy or bitterness when discussing Crosby's profile with Johnson.
"I get enjoyment out of it. The attention he gets, he deserves," Johnson said. "He didn't just roll out of bed and get it. If I'm going to be in anyone's shadow, I want to be in his."
Crosby and Johnson, who played together at Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school in Faribault, Minn., were the only 10th-grade students on the school's midget team that won a national championship.
Johnson said he has learned a great deal about preparation and dealing with the pressure of stardom from watching how Crosby has handled himself.
"He's still the same kid," Johnson said this week.
The two talk three or four times a week and plan to sit together at Saturday's draft in Ottawa if the circumstances of the abbreviated event allow. The two will also take part in a clinic for local minor hockey players the day before the draft.
Some time ago, the two friends quietly pledged to follow each other to the podium as the top two players in their draft class. They planned in the way teenagers plan these things, for the photo op, arms around each other's shoulders, wearing the jerseys of their new teams. It is a plan that has every chance of coming to pass.
"We're hoping," Johnson admitted.
Born in Indiana, Johnson got started on his part of the plan after his family moved to suburban Detroit. His mother, Tina, knew hockey would be part of her son's life when he first took the ice as a preschooler.
"He just stood up and started across the rink. There was no falling down, no holding onto the boards. He just did it as if it was the most natural thing in the world," she said.
From the time he was 9 years old, Johnson has attended summer hockey camps at the University of Michigan, and he told legendary coach Red Berenson early on that he would play for the Wolverines someday.
Johnson was invited to the Select 15 Festival, a gathering of the top pre-junior players in the United States. When the event was over, Johnson was asked by Quinn to join the NTDP program in Ann Arbor, Mich. The 15-year-old then was offered a scholarship by Berenson.
"There aren't many kids you'd make that kind of commitment to," said Berenson, who calls Johnson the "complete package."
With four senior defensemen leaving Michigan this offseason, the expectations are already high for Johnson to step into one of the most demanding programs in NCAA hockey.
For a young man who just turned 18, it would be easy to become consumed by the perks of his position -- the travel, the possibilities that lie ahead.
But Johnson knows the sacrifices that have been made to get him to Saturday's draft. His family has been willing to sacrifice its own stability, but not its togetherness, to give him every chance to succeed in hockey. Although the plan was for Johnson to live on campus at Shattuck-St. Mary's, his parents quit their jobs and moved to a house across the street from the school's rink. When Johnson was recruited by the NTDP, the family was uprooted once again.
"I think about it all the time," he said. "If all this stuff works out, it's all because my parents got up at 4 in the morning to take me to skate before school started. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for them. I owe so much to them I'll never be able to make it up."
In some ways, he repays them with the time he spends with brother Kenny, now 6, playing hockey in the driveway or at the local rink.
"I love to watch him skate. I'm hoping he'll end up being better than me," Johnson said.
It's weird to imagine JMFJ being a Duck instead of Bobby Ryan. And the comment about Crosby's shadow is just... it makes me feel weird.
Johnson powers Blue Jackets' blue line
Matthew Florjancic, WKYC 4:01 p.m. EDT April 25, 2014
Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson has provided an offensive spark for the Blue Jackets in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson is in no way considered a goal scorer, as he tallied only five while playing in all 82 regular-season games this year.
However, that was a regular season. In the postseason, Johnson is leading the Blue Jackets with three goals, as he has tallied a score in each of the Blue Jackets' first three games in their best-of-seven series with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I've kind of been in the right place at the right time," Johnson said after Tuesday's practice. "I don't think I'd label myself as a goal scorer, but it's just being in the right place at the right time with a little bit of luck. Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good."
Although Johnson admitted that scoring goals is not normally his forte, he did express his penchant for being involved in the action.
"I definitely like jumping into the play," Johnson said. "A lot of it is people have been leaving me wide open. Usually, I don't get left that wide open. In all of them, I haven't had a Pittsburgh guy around me coming in, which was pretty nice. Usually, teams are very, very aware of where the other team's (defensemen) are so they can't jump in."
In addition to his goal scoring, Johnson has assisted on two other Blue Jackets tallies, and is plus-one, meaning Columbus has outscored Pittsburgh by a goal when he has been on the ice.
"Jack has been very good down the stretch," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "He's been very good these first three games. He plays like a man out on the ice. He's skating. He can log the big minutes.
"He played close to 40 minutes in the overtime game in game two, and they're big minutes. They're tough minutes against tough opposition. He's playing against (Pittsburgh centers Sydney) Crosby or (Evgeni) Malkin most of the night. On penalty kill, he's one of the first guys over the boards and plays power play, so every situation."
Along with a first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Johnson came to the Blue Jackets in the middle of the 2011-2012 regular season in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings for forward Jeff Carter.
Carter was unhappy about being traded from Philadelphia to Columbus and vehemently wanted out of town, which was in stark contrast to how Johnson felt when he moved to central Ohio. Despite leaving a team that eventually won the Stanley Cup, Johnson embraced the opportunity to be part of a turnaround in Columbus, something that never went unnoticed.
"He's a real important piece for our team, not only what he brings out on the ice, how he plays and he's able to handle big, strong guys, also, guys that can skate, but I think he's got a lot of respect in the room from his peers," Richards said. "He's a guy that takes care of himself. He's in the weight room. He's doing the right things. He's been a real key guy for us down the stretch."
But apparently not good enough to make the Olympic team!
Michael Arace commentary: Jack Johnson sets example Jackets are following
By Michael Arace
The Columbus Dispatch • SATURDAY APRIL 26, 2014 3:27 PM
Few could have pictured the Blue Jackets in this position, with two pucks in place on a plaque that holds 16, a plaque in the shape of the Stanley Cup, newly mounted on the front wall of their locker room. Their goal is fourteen more pucks, and they do not appear to be insane.
Where did this team come from?
The Jackets had the worst record in the NHL, and one of the worst winning percentages in all of professional sports, over the first decade of the 21st century. They were the worst team in the league as recently as 2012. They couldn’t even win a draft lottery.
Now, their first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins is tied at two games apiece, and they are sneering at anyone who might suggest that hanging tight with the mighty Penguins is some kind of surprise. For their fans, it is like the world has been turned upside-down.
If one were to pick a date when this incredible leap of imagination first got airborne, it might be Feb. 24, 2012, when Jack Johnson flew to Columbus to join the Jackets. He left California, and the Los Angeles Kings, who would go on to win the Stanley Cup that season, and jetted to Ohio, to join the Jackets, who were in last place.
“I remember the year-end meeting, when we went around the room asking about goals, and some guys said ‘make the playoffs’ and this and that,” coach Todd Richards said. “It got around to Jack and he said, ‘I want to win the Stanley Cup. That’s my goal.’ ”
Days after that meeting, Johnson told Dispatch beat writer Aaron Portzline: “I’m happy where I am. That’s all I need to know. I don’t have any animosity (toward the Kings). If I had a chance, I’d probably thank them for trading me because I feel like I’m in a better spot now. I’m where I belong.”
People thought he was crazy.
“I don’t really care if people think I’m crazy or not,” Johnson said after practice yesterday, before the Jackets traveled to Pittsburgh for Game 5 tonight at Consol Energy Center.
Johnson is as sound of mind and body as anyone right now. He is among the league’s playoff leaders in goals (three), points (five) and average ice time (29:36). At least one of his teammates, Ryan Johansen, is calling him “Big Show.” Why?
“Why?” Johansen said. “Aren’t you watching these games?”
Before Johnson’s arrival, Mark Letestu came from a successful playoff team (Pittsburgh) to join a loser in Columbus.
After Johnson’s arrival, Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov (New York Rangers) made the same transition. They are bigger men than Jeff Carter. They handled the transition with aplomb, recognized the talent that was on hand and helped redefine what it means to be a Blue Jacket.
Johnson was in the vanguard of this movement and, if you’re watching these games, it is clear that the Big Show continues to lead.
“He’s a warrior,” teammate Nick Foligno said. “He competes. That’s Jack. I’ve known him since I was 16 years old and he’s an incredibly proud guy. That’s where it comes from. He’s not shy about changing the culture, and creating a winner here. Look how he’s playing in the biggest games.”
He is playing as if he wants to win the Stanley Cup. He is showing how this can be done, in Columbus. If this were a revival, he would be the preacher — he just doesn’t preach.
“If you have to go out and say anything, then it’s not true,” Johnson said. “It’s guys that go out and do it when it matters, that’s what’s important. It’s not hard to take that mindset. We went into Game 1 expecting to win. If you don’t have that mentality, you shouldn’t be here.”
Half the league makes the playoffs, and most of the playoff teams win a game or two, and so the Jackets haven’t done anything yet. That is what Johnson says, and his teammates echo him.
I made the mistake of watching the video and they talked about how he was a horse and Coach Richards rides him every shift. :( :( :( I hope the "Big Show" name is forgotten quickly. And I'm glad for his huge ego and dumb optimism otherwise he'd probably be a sad, sad panda.