Thursday, August 9, 2012

What to Expect From: Jack Johnson

In this series, we're going to go through each player, examine what they have been able to produce in the past and what it would be reasonable to expect from them in the coming season, mostly using logic. The goal is to have a statistical expectation for the team as a whole, to see how well they might fare in 2012-13. This is an alternative to just throwing your hands up in the air, crying, drinking excessively (although this activity doesn't exclude drinking) and playing russian roulette alone in my basement all summer.

The fourth entry in our series is Jack Johnson.

How do you like warm-ups? "mmm... not bad."
Predicting the statistical output of a defenseman is more difficult than it is with forwards and to be honest, I probably started off with a tough one. If I was looking for an easier prediction, I may have started off with Aaron Johnson's NHL stats (0-0-0 in 0GP) or Marc Methot's goal total with the Sens next season (0 or 1).

JMFJ was a huge part of the return we got for Jeff Carter toward the end of last season. He was an interesting piece, in that he has long been touted as a soon-to-be elite defenseman who never seemed to fit in appropriately with the Kings. He was initially drafted third overall back in 2005 by Carolina and traded to Los Angeles before he could sign with the Hurricanes. Eventually in 2007 he was coaxed out of the NCAA to play with the Kings at the end of that season and has played in the NHL since that time.

If we are going to throw labels on Johnson's game, we can say this for sure: he is a phenomenally talented athlete. He has the size (6'1", 235lbs), strength, quick feet, and all the other physical attributes one would need to be a good to great professional athlete in a violent team sport like hockey, rugby or football. He probably would have made a good boxer or MMA fighter also. But he chose hockey and has learned all the skills it takes to wow people in practice- excellent shot, great passing, and he could knock over a horse with an open ice body check. He isn't lacking in effort/emotion, either. Anyone who has seen him react to goals for/against or listened to his post game interviews this past year could be forgiven for assuming he put down a years' salary on the Blue Jackets winning that game.

But statistically, he was consistently one of the worst defensemen on the LA Kings, something I still don't completely understand. The one explanation that seems to hold water is one that Ohio State fans might smirk at- his development was hindered by the awful coaching at University of Michigan. It seems that "that school up north" has been letting the Paterno of the hockey world run his program without any help. And by Paterno, I don't mean to imply anything of the jerry sandusky type of egregious violation. Just that, if you believe what Dean Lombardi says, apparently Red Berenson just sits around and collects paychecks while watching college hockey instead of coaching kids.

Before his arrival in Columbus this past winter, many of us fell in love with him and put him on a pedestal. After the Rick Nash rumors and the Jeff Carter certainties, we were all aching for validation as an NHL city and Johnson scratched us right where we itched. On his first telephone interview, he said he wanted to be part of the solution and that he was a midwest boy at heart, happy to return to his homeland. Some of us gave him the "C" before he ever hit the ice.

After his arrival, he backed up that telephone interview and put up some of the best play we've ever seen in a CBJ uniform by a defenseman. He was punishing, fast, smart and intense. Johnson never gave an inch and started to take the reins of the sled. He formed a bond and shared on-ice success with fellow michigander James Wisniewski. They refer to their combined effect as "controlled chaos", which seems flat-out stupid because they are both denounced as guys who run around like chickens with their heads cut off... but it was effective so good on them.

Here are JMFJ's NHL stats:

Regular SeasonPlayoffs

2006-07Los Angeles KingsNHL500018-5----------
2007-08Los Angeles KingsNHL74381176-19----------
2008-09Los Angeles KingsNHL41651146-18----------
2009-10Los Angeles KingsNHL808283648-1560776
2010-11Los Angeles KingsNHL825374244-2161450
2011-12Los Angeles KingsNHL618162424-12----------
2011-12Columbus Blue JacketsNHL2141014155----------
NHL Totals3643410413827112111126

If you'll take note of the main past criticism: He was never a plus player until his half season out here last year. What advanced stats showed us about JJ was that his points per minutes on ice were not great compared with the rest of the team. And prior to his arrival here, he was often caught flat-footed, up-ice or empty-brained.

And if you'll notice something slightly promising: 12 points in 12 playoff games.

"TMZ reports Jack Johnson swoons Kristen Stewart with vampire bloodlust, sparkling skin."

The obvious good thing is that he seems to have turned a corner since coming here. If we take his quarter season here and extrapolate it out over 82 games, we get an excellent 16-goal- 39-assist- for- 55 points- season. But this may not be realistic. Johnson has never produced quite at this pace and it would be rare for him to spontaneously develop the well-coached attributes that allow a guy to consistently produce like this throughout a whole season. I'm inclined to believe this past season's showing was the result of a lot of anger (probably directed toward the kings), adrenaline and a new comfort at being a big fish in a small pond. It was difficult for him to find his role in LA because even when they weren't great, there were usually a few guys who were hands-down better hockey players than him. Doughty managed to outclass him in his rookie season alone which had to be unsettling. Jack then became quickly comfortable in Columbus, where not even Rick Nash seemed to be better than him. The success of Johnson may have also had something to do with the transition from tightly-controlled coaching styles back in LA to Todd Richards' seemingly quite hands-off approach with the guys here. Maybe Jack is actually more effective after he's bitten off his leash.

Next year, I believe he will continue to be the face of the franchise and will make a strong push for the all star game roster. His offensive numbers won't be as impressive as many hope, but he will be even better defensively and remain effective on the PP. It's pretty much a slam-dunk that he will pair with Wiz on the first D-pairing to start the season. And he'll continue to play between 26 and 30 minutes per game.

Off the ice, I know a lot of people favor Johnson as the captain for 2012-13. I don't mind the idea overall. The only issue could be what happens if last season was just a honeymoon and he reverts to the seemingly brainless troglodyte we saw in LA? Do they rip it off mid-season and award it to another guy? What if Murray or Johansen (or dorse, vinny, wiz, etc) start to show that they're the real class of the organization and out-work everyone else on the team? Ripping a C off a player is a bad situation and management would be right to want to avoid it. We will know come training camp if his leadership role will be cemented.

Predicted stats for JMFJ in 2012-13: 12G 30A 42P. And although I've been shying away from +/- predictions overall, I'd give Johnson a plus next season.

And he'll ride a shark.


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