Picking sixth in the draft, Red Wing’s general manager Steve Yzerman will have a bevy of high end talent to examine across the world. He has a handful of “home grown” prospects to analyze at the University of Michigan, which includes the player with maybe the highest upside in the draft: Kent Johnson.
Walking Highlight Reel
Johnson’s tape can be easily confused for NHL ’21 gameplay at times. He’s the most creative player in the draft, willing to use his raw talent to will scoring chances into existence. He led all draft-eligible NCAA players in points this season, with nine goals and 18 assists in 27 games as a Freshman with Michigan.
Johnson has a diverse set of skills in his offensive toolbox. He uses his speed, creativity and fantastic handling skills in the offensive zone to remain a constant threat. He will patiently maintain possession of the puck, always keeping on eye out for an under-the-radar passing lane or opening in the net. Johnson will often blitz the goaltender, only to snap a pass through his legs to whatever teammate was behind him.
Johnson is especially lethal transitionally. As soon as he gains possession in the defensive zone, the only thing running through his mind is “go go go”, using his great speed to bolt for the offensive zone. The problem for defenders is they never know what he’ll do once he enters; he can try a fancy videogame-like spin move or deke to slip past, or he’ll remain patient and watch the passing lanes for an open teammate.
With three goals on the power play, Johnson was also a threat on the man advantage. Often acting as a point man, he uses his patience and hands to wait with the puck until a slight opening occurs. Or, he’ll fool the defense by just passing it through his legs to a teammate in a more high danger spot.
Oh, did I mention he also has a wicked backhander?
Still Needs Work
Johnson could very well possess the most elite skillset in the draft class. The problem? He’s still very much a project.
The biggest flaw in Johnson’s game is trying to be too creative and overthinking the play at times. He tries to do those odd plays constantly, and he often pays the price with a turnover. Watching his tape, one notices a few points where it seems like he’s just spinning around in the offensive zone with the puck.
He’ll wait too long for an opening and end up with nothing. Some of those “video game” plays he attempts look a bit embarrassing on tape when they fail, as the average hockey fan is left scratching their head trying to figure out what the heck he was trying. It’s also uncertain how well these skills can translate to the best hockey league in the world.
Johnson also needs to improve his physicality, namely by gaining a few pounds (Weights 170) and adjusting to his 6-foot-1 frame.
A fit for the Red Wings’ Yzerplan?
Johnson fits the Red Wing’s organization in a few ways. Many NHL scouts project him as an NHL center (Although there is still work to be done if that kind of change can be made), which is a position Detroit needs more prospect depth in. He’s also lethal on the power play, which is an area Detroit needs more than a little help in.
Perhaps most important is the kind of ceiling Kent Johnson has. There have been flashes where he is clearly the most talented player on the ice; the amount of raw talent and skill he has in his toolbox is insane – it’s just a matter of knowing when to use it. Currently, the Red Wings organization lacks almost any of that game breaking/elite talent that propels a team from playoff contender to cup contender. Johnson provides this upside.
Johnson might be a risk. He might not be able to adjust his set of skills to the NHL, or he might lose some of that creativity and craftiness in the transition. However, Johnson might be the type of player that Yzerman takes the risk for: the rebuild gets an instant shot of adrenaline if Johnson can live up to his potential. If he’s available at six, Johnson could very well be snatched up by Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings.