The Los Angeles Kings will face former teammate Jack Johnson in tonight's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at 4 PM PST. Tonight's matchup marks the second meeting between the two since the defenseman was traded to Columbus in exchange for forward Jeff Carter.
The Kings were struggling offensively last season (and again this season), and as a result were badly in need of a goal scorer. Carter was available and fit the description well, but Los Angeles would have to part ways with their young defenseman, a former number three overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Good two-way defensemen are hard to come by at this level, but luckily the Kings had another youngster named Slava Voynov waiting in the minors. Voynov was NHL ready, and showed he was capable of playing in the league while filling in for injured defenseman Drew Doughty earlier in the season. Voynov's readiness to play at the NHL level is likely what enabled the Kings' organization to go through with trading Johnson away.
Johnson was a player who had plenty of potential and expectations coming into the league, but didn't always meet them. He was valuable on the power play with a good hard slap shot, and he showed flashes of great play on both sides of the puck. Overall though, Johnson was not good at plus/minus player in his six seasons in Los Angeles, and although he did tally a career high 42 points (5 goals, 37 assists) in 2010-11, he also managed to rack up a career worst plus/minus-21 during that same season.
A trade to the Blue Jackets may have been just what Johnson needed, even if it was to the worst team in hockey at the time. Upon his arrival he instantly became the team's top defenseman.
In 30 games with Columbus, Johnson has recorded 17 points (5 goals, 12 assists) while playing heavy minutes, something he seems to embrace.
“I felt great, actually. I’ve had nine months off,” Johnson said. “So there’s no excuse not to be ready to go. That’s why you train in the summer too. You train to be able to go through that. To play 48 games in 99 days, your body has to be ready to do that. It’s not easy. I love playing."
Johnson set a franchise record in Saturday's win over the Detroit Red Wings, logging a whopping 34 minutes and 59 seconds of ice time. The Indianapolis native is still young at just 26 years of age, but with all the injuries the Blue Jackets' defense has been hit with this season, he is playing a very veteran-like role. Johnson's former teammate, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty leads the entire NHL with an average ice time of 28:41 per game.
With the Blue Jackets' offense ranking 29th in the NHL, scoring just 1.98 goals per game, Johnson and his defensive counterparts have had the stress of trying to play perfect on a nightly basis in order to give the team a chance at victory.
While he seems to fit in nicely in Columbus, Johnson was forced to watch as his former team went on to win the 2012 Stanley Cup without him. In a way though, the trade seemed to work out for both sides, as Johnson seems happy with his new role as the go-to defensive leader for Columbus. The Kings of course won their first ever championship after picking up some much-needed scoring, as they acquired Jeff Carter from the Blue Jackets.
After finishing the season with the worst record in the NHL last season, the Blue Jackets once again have a losing record at 3-5-1. Johnson will make his first return to Los Angeles when the Kings host Columbus at Staples Center on Feb. 15.
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