Next up in The Win Column’s 2021 NHL Entry Draft coverage is Kent Johnson. Using TWC’s consolidated top 100 prospect rankings, Johnson sits at ninth overall, right around the range the Flames will be picking. Johnson has risen up draft rankings all year, and was recently ranked third among North American Skaters by Central Scouting.
Who is Kent Johnson?
Johnson was born on October 18, 2002, making him one of the oldest players projected to go in the first round this year. Similar to William Eklund, he missed the cut off for the 2020 draft by a month. Johnson is from British Columbia, Canada which is where he grew up playing hockey until going south of the border to play in the NCAA this most recent season.
Johnson is a left shot who is a natural centreman, but played at left wing last season in Michigan in order to play with fellow top prospect and centreman Matthew Beniers on Michigan’s top line. Going forward he will most likely move back to centre. He stands at a slim 6’1 and 165 pounds.
Kent Johnson’s on-ice production
Let’s take a look at Johnson’s production over the past three seasons across the two leagues he played in.
|2018-19||D-2||BCHL||Trail Smoke Eaters||57||20||26||46||8.6|
|2019-20||D-1||BCHL||Trail Smoke Eaters||52||41||60||101||20.7|
|2020-21||D+0||NCAA Big-10||U. of Michigan||26||9||18||27||28.3|
Johnson spent the previous two seasons before this one playing in the BCHL, a Junior A league based in British Columbia. His 46 points in 57 games in 2018-19 ranked 45th league wide, however he was just 16 years old playing mainly against 18 to 20-year-olds. He was the highest scoring 16-year-old in the league that year. He was also named to the BCHL All-Rookie team.
The next season Johnson dominated the BCHL, putting up a staggering 101 points in just 52 games which was 30 more than any other player in the league. He also led the league in both goals and assists. His 1.94 points per game was the best total in the BCHL since Scott Gomez’s 2.29 points per game during the 1996-1997 season. He was named a BCHL First-Team All-Star as well as winning the BCHL Most Sportsmanlike Player and the BCHL Most Valuable Player.
This most recent season, Johnson made the jump to the NCAA to play for the University of Michigan with fellow top prospects Owen Power and Beniers. His 27 points ranked 28th in the NCAA, but was first among draft eligible players beating out teammate Matthew Beniers. He was also an initial nominee for the Hobey Baker award handed out to the NCAA’s top male hockey player each year.
Johnson has never represented Canada at a major tournament, however he will have a good shot at making the team for the 2022 World Juniors after being a surprising omission from the team’s 2021 selection camp.
Kent Johnson’s strengths
Skill, skill and more skill. Johnson is arguably the most purely skilled offensive player in the draft. Whenever you watch him play you can tell right away he has an elite set of hands. His elite handling of the puck allows him to make quick plays in tight and also while moving at top speed. He’s very hard to contain with the puck and can beat defenders in one-on-one situations with ease when given enough time and space.
He possesses high end playmaking ability as well and will most likely be a playmaker more than a scorer at the next level. Using his elite hands, high-end vision, and impressive creativity he is able to find teammates all over the ice. He’s a very good play driver and loves having the puck on his stick in the offensive zone in order to use his dynamic skills and creativity to create separation leading to chances for himself and his teammates.
His skating is also very strong. He doesn’t possess high-end top speed, but he is very quick and agile. His edgework is very good and it allows him to change directions quickly and shake off defenders. When he has the puck he is very hard to contain. Here he is showcasing his skating, puck handling and elusiveness behind the net before finishing it off with a “Michigan” attempt.
Johnson is also very skilled in transition because of his elite puck control, both breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and gaining the offensive zone with control. This clip illustrates that ability very well as he goes end to end, beats the defender one on one, and buries a beautiful backhander.
Kent Johnson’s areas of improvement
The biggest area for improvement for Johnson is his overall strength and size. He has a very slim frame right now and will need to add some strength to compete against stronger and larger opponents in the NHL.
He is willing to get to the dirty areas of the ice, however, due to his lack of strength he tends to get beaten in puck battles against larger defenders. This applies to both the offensive zone and the defensive zone as he gets pushed around in the defensive zone at times when battling for a puck.
He could also benefit from getting to the centre of the ice more often as well. As a skilled player he likes to do most of his work along the wall, but attacking the centre of the ice more will allow him to create more scoring opportunities for himself. Again, with more size and strength this will come easier for him.
Fit with the Flames
In terms of the skill he possesses, he would be a great fit with the Flames. It’s no secret that the current roster and organization as a whole lacks players with dynamic offensive abilities. The Flames desperately need to inject some high-end offensive skill into their organization and Johnson would immediately become one of the most offensively gifted players in the organization. In fact, in terms of raw offensive skill he would probably be second behind Johnny Gaudreau.
If we are looking more at what the team needs positionally, he’s much less of a fit. As a left shot centre/left winger he doesn’t fill the teams biggest need of a right shot winger. However with the uncertainty surrounding the centre position in Calgary going forward due to Sean Monahan’s recent struggles, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to add a blue chip centre prospect to the organization.
At the end of the day, the only player at the top of the draft who truly fits the Flames’ positional needs is Dylan Guenther, and he will most likely be picked long before the Flames are on the clock. If Guenther is indeed gone by the time they pick the team should be looking to pick the best forward available, and Johnson should be right at the top of their list if he’s still there considering his skillset.
Johnson has elite level offensive skill that very few players in this draft possess. His creativity, elite hands, and dynamic ability with the puck make him one of the most dangerous offensive players available this year.
He has a very high ceiling, probably one of the highest in the entire draft. If he can continue to build on his skills while adding some strength and size, he could develop into a top line point producing centre or winger at the NHL level.
His high ceiling also comes with a low floor and some risk as well though. With any player of his build, if he is unable to add some strength and size to his frame, he may not be able transfer his elite offensive skills to the NHL where the players are much bigger and stronger. He also isn’t as well rounded as some of the other names available at the top of the draft which could concern some teams.
Despite projecting as a high pick, he’s most likely still at least two years away from playing at the NHL level. Another one or two years in the NCAA are most likely the best path for him, allowing him to add some strength before making the jump to the professional level.
Johnson will probably be gone before the Flames pick, but if he does slip a few spots to the Flames’ projected 12th overall spot, Calgary would be wise to snap him up.
Projection: Top line playmaking centre/winger
Featured image created with Venngage.