Will Scouch — a very trustworthy draft analyst that is a must-follow on Twitter and must-watch on YouTube to get a sense of players in any upcoming draft — described Kent Johnson’s game perfectly when he titled his video on the University of Michigan prospect as “If NHL 21 Were Real”.
All you need to do to justify that descriptor is watch this one goal:
Kent Johnson (#2021NHLDraft eligible) scored one of the more beautiful goals we've seen all season in @NCAAIceHockey for @UMichHockey yesterday.— EP Rinkside (@EPRinkside) December 9, 2020
Johnson's @EliteProspects page: https://t.co/UpLeD6sOjI pic.twitter.com/Xb13ICNSOz
Add that to the fact that Johnson has scored not one but two Michigan/Svechnikov goals for the Wolverines this year and it all sums up to an electric player that will no doubt have some NHL team’s social media managers drooling, thinking about all the highlights they get to post.
After watching just a couple minutes of goals — as everyone should take time out of their day and enjoy some teens doing crazy shit — it’s clear that Johnson has the desire to be dramatic and entertaining as hell. A magician with his backhand and the vision to seek out his goal-scoring linemates, Johnson might have the plainest name of the draft but his game is polar opposite.
Depending on what team selects him, Johnson will surely be one to watch in the big leagues and make any team happy for their engagement.
What Scouts Are Saying
Johnson has shown no ability to slow down since coming to the NCAA. He is second on the University of Michigan in points, with 25 total points in 23 games. He is a shifty electrifying center who thinks the game at a high level. Johnson is usually always one of the most consistent players on the ice, showing off his flashy hands and playmaking abilities. This makes him very dangerous, but combining his offensive skills with strong fluid edgework and skating, he can carve the ice quickly, create space, and make the opposition hesitate.
Johnson is the player you want to know about in this year’s draft in terms of dynamic skill and playmaking ability. A lot of his puck touches look unique from other players on the ice, with the ability to make between-the-legs and behind-the-back plays look routine. He’s a very creative playmaker who can make difficult plays in small areas consistently but can overcomplicate at times. Johnson has a decent wrist shot, which he showed more in junior than college. His game can lack pace and he’s not that hard to play against, but I wouldn’t call him soft either. In a sentence, Johnson projects as a top-line NHL forward, likely on the wing, who has the most star potential in the draft but also has the most significant physical drawbacks of the top prospects.
I've been watching a ton of Kent Johnson (#2021NHLDraft) lately and this kid has some skill.— Tony Ferrari (@theTonyFerrari) October 29, 2020
He had TWO Michigan/Svechnikov goals last year. Look how quickly he collects the pass and makes the decision to go for it here.
Imagine he pulls off the Michigan at Yost next season? pic.twitter.com/rF8aVNF7dO
Johnson is as creative as they come. Whether it’s passing and shooting between his legs, lacrosse moves, or anything else you’d find on a highlight reel, if you can dream it, he can probably do it. Michigan coach Mel Pearson has a longstanding philosophy of allowing his skilled players freedom to exercise their creativity, and Johnson has undoubtedly benefited from that thus far. More of a playmaker than a goal-scorer, Johnson’s passing stands out on almost every shift, whether he’s sending a spin pass to a teammate wide open in the slot or finding a lane between three defenders.
Johnson’s hands have always been a calling card of his, and they’ve certainly been on display so far in his NCAA career. If you watch even one of Johnson’s games, he’ll probably cut back like that at least four or five times, if not many more. At the NCAA level, Johnson isn’t the fastest skater in a straight line (though his straight-line quickness is very solidly above average) but his edgework and shiftiness make him incredibly elusive. Playing the wing has been an adjustment for Johnson, between having the puck less and being more on the wall than in the middle of the ice, and I’d like to see him continue to focus on getting off the wall more.
From a defensive standpoint, Johnson pretty much just does what he needs to do. He may not win any awards for his defensive play, but he’s not a liability in his own end. The best defense is not having to play in the defensive zone at all, and his line is seemingly always in the offensive zone. In the two games where he played center and had to take on more responsibilities in the defensive zone, he was relatively effective against a high-powered Minnesota offense and seemed to get comfortable quickly with having more defensive responsibility. The same skills that make him effective in transition — most notably his sound positioning — make him effective in the defensive zone as well.
His passing can be otherworldly at times but he can also leave a lot to de desired when he looks off a clear pass. His shot is okay but he lacks pop on it. All this to say, the highlights don’t tell the full story.
Would He Fit In With The Wild?
Absolutely. A desperate need for offense only leaves the Wild clamoring for forwards to select. Johnson would be an immediate top option for the role of “top prospect” once Marco Rossi hopefully graduates next season and the Wolverine’s future on this team as a top-six center for back-up Rossi or some other man from Buffalo (oops) can only be a welcome sight.
Could The Wild Get Him?
If you’ve enjoyed any of our draft profiles in the last week or so, a consistent theme of “lol no” has been prevalent in this section.
It’s still too early in the ranking to even think about the Wild taking one of these players. Even if Johnson drops a little bit, he won’t last beyond the top half of the first round and one team will surely be attracted to him by his highlights and playmaking.
A Minnesota Relation
This one is tough. The Wild don’t have a history of dynamic, skilled centers that can create plays out of nothing, but the most direct historic answer — trying to ignore the current roster out of my own sanity — is Marian Gaborik.
Even though he is not a center, Gaborik is the Wild’s largest offensive talent in franchise history (until Kirill). He was able to score goals at an insane rate and just simply make his teammates better. This isn’t saying that Johnson will have the same career as Gaborik — multiple 40-goal seasons, six All-Star appearances, and a couple Hart Trophy votes — but it’s just more so declaring that they can play a similar role on the ice. Johnson might not have the same shot as Gaborik does, or goal-scoring touch, but he can affect the game to bring everyone up with him.
2021 NHL Draft Board
- Owen Power — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
- Matthew Beniers — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)
- Brandt Clarke — D, HC Nove Zamky (Slovenia)
- Luke Hughes — D, University of Michigan (NCAA)
- Dylan Guenther — LW/RW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
- Simon Edvinsson — D, Frolunda (SHL)
- William Eklund — C/LW, Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
- Kent Johnson — C, University of Michigan (NCAA)