Photo Credit – Trail Smoke Eaters / Mike Hockley
It’s not hyperbolic to say that no one has lit up the BCHL in their draft-minus-one year like Kent Johnson did last season. After putting up 46 points in 57 regular season games with the Trail Smoke Eaters as a 16-year-old and adding another 12 in 12 playoff games, Johnson exploded in his 17-year-old season for 101 points in just 52 games. The playoffs were cut short due to the pandemic, but before the season ended, Johnson added seven points in four playoff games.
You have to look all the way back to Scott Gomez in 1997 to find a player that tops Johnson’s 1.94 points per game pace. All of that is to say that, at only age 17, Johnson was far and away the best forward in the BCHL last year and one of the best in the last 20+ years.
Through the first part of first NCAA season, Johnson is tied for the team lead with 18 points in 16 games. Despite playing center in junior, he’s mostly played the left wing with Matty Beniers as his center on Michigan’s top line. Johnson did center a line while Beniers was at the World Junior Championships to limited success but given that the Wolverines were swept in that series, it’s hard to draw conclusions about how impactful he would be at center in the NCAA based on that sample.
D.O.B – October 18, 2002
Nationality – Canada
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Weight –165 lbs
Position – Center/Left Wing
Handedness – Left
Johnson’s Style of Play
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. Look no further than this clip for a microcosm of who Johnson is:
The between-the-legs shot is the obvious highlight, but it’s the sharp cutback along the wall that gets him the space to attempt the move in the first place. 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. That’s something he’s aware of and mentioned working on in a January interview.
“I think I play best when I have the puck on my stick a lot in the game, especially in the neutral zone and the offensive zone,” Johnson said. “… At first, I just had to find a way to get the puck a bit more because obviously a lot runs through the center a lot of the time. Just trying to find a way. For me, just getting off the wall early when I do have the puck — at this level, I’m not the fastest guy yet so I can’t really just bust down the wall with speed, so I’ve gotta get off the wall so I can use my shiftiness and my IQ. Whenever I get the puck, I try to take a step to the middle now.”
If you’re looking at Johnson on paper, his point totals stand out — above point-per-game pace in the NCAA is pretty striking for a draft-eligible player. But if you dig deeper, 11 of those points are secondary assists. He’s scored six goals, which ranks second on the team, and most strikingly, he has just one primary assist on the season. Johnson doesn’t shoot the puck a ton — his 29 shots rank him eighth among the Wolverines — but he leads the team with a 20.7% shooting percentage, so he’s clearly efficient when he does shoot. I’d like to see him shoot the puck a little more in Michigan’s remaining games, because if there’s one thing to nitpick in his game, it’s his occasional tendency to pass up a shot in favor of looking for the perfect passing option.
Let’s talk a little more about all those secondary assists for a second. I like to use secondary assists as an indicator that the player is driving offense when his team is on the ice rather than a demonstrator of particular skill, because secondary assists are often coincidental. Though I’d like to see Johnson put up more primary points like he’s certainly capable of doing, Johnson’s high point totals indicate that he drives offense when he’s on the ice, and that’s undeniably valuable.
On his line with Beniers, Beniers is often the one doing the so-called dirty work, and Johnson consistently demonstrates a strong understanding of positioning and puck support. It seems like he’s nearly always in the right place to receive an outlet pass and start the breakout or take the puck into the offensive zone himself. Per Madeline Campbell’s tracking, Johnson has more zone entry attempts than anyone else on Michigan by a wide margin with 106 — the next closest is 89. He’s successful with his high volume of zone entries, too, with a 73.3% controlled entry percentage. When exiting the defensive zone, Johnson is second among Michigan’s forwards in exit attempts and has a 66.2% controlled exit percentage. Combine that with his effectiveness in entering the zone and you begin to get a picture of Johnson’s efficiency and skill in transition.
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.
Obviously, at just 165 pounds, Johnson needs to add strength. He plays bigger than he looks on paper — it’s relatively rare to see him get blown off the puck or be completely overwhelmed in a puck battle — but adding weight to his frame will be important for his success at the next level. Everything else is somewhat nit-picky, but as mentioned above, I’d like to see him shoot the puck more and work more on getting to the middle of the ice. He can occasionally get a little stuck on the wall, and attacking the middle of the ice, whether in transition or in the offensive zone, will help him create more space to make more plays.
Alex Newhook also scored 100+ points in the BCHL, though he did it in his draft year as opposed to Johnson his D-1 year. Newhook went on to be drafted at No. 16 overall by the Avalanche in 2019 and put up 42 points in 34 games for Boston College as a freshman last year. But stylistically, Johnson is more similar to Mitch Marner — both slightly undersized, high-level playmakers with quick hands and shifty feet.
As high as a top-line center/winger (NHL), floor is a top six forward (NHL).
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Bailey Johnson. If you would like to follow Bailey on Twitter, her handle is @BaileyAJohnson_.
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