2004 Prospects: Q&A with Nick Johnson

By Eric J. Welsh





He’ll say it doesn’t matter, but for winger Nick Johnson, the National<br />Hockey League dream has just gotten one step closer

He’ll
say it doesn’t matter, but for winger Nick Johnson, the National Hockey
League dream has just gotten one step closer. The Central Scouting Bureau has
rated Johnson, a top player for the St. Albert Saints of the Albert Junior A
Hockey League, 65th overall among North American skaters in its
mid-term rankings. With European rankings still to come, projecting to the June
NHL draft, that would make the young scoring machine a likely late fourth or
early fifth round pick.

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With
injuries dogging him most of this Alberta Junior Hockey League season, getting
listed wasn’t a sure bet. With 26 goals and 48 points in 36 games, Johnson
thought he’d done enough to make the grade, but he pegged himself as a sixth
rounder at best.

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Only
three players from the AJHL made the list. Johnson was tops, followed by a pair
of Grand Prairie players, Scott McCulloch at No. 71 and Kyle Radke
at No. 140.

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“Generally,
I think I’ve had a fairly good year, minus the injuries,” he said. “As soon as
I came to practice [when the list came out], everyone kind of made sure I knew
it. It was nice to see I guess. It doesn’t mean a whole lot until the actual
draft date, but it’s rewarding just to be on there. Two years ago I was playing
Midget AA and now I’m on the list. It’s overwhelming, but you’ve just got to
take it in stride and reason with it I guess.”

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Asked
to break down his game, Johnson cites his size and willingness to go to the net
as strengths that might make him noticeable to pro scouts. A native of Calgary
and a huge Flames fan, his hockey idol is Jarome Iginla, and he sees himself as
an Iggy type of player.

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“Without
the power,” the lanky 6’2” 170 lb winger laughed. “I guess I’m a big guy. Maybe
I’m not the heaviest, but my size is a bit of an advantage. I like to see the
ice and try to make a play develop. I’m good in front of the net and that’s
where I like to be. I’ve always paid attention to scoring goals and it’s kind
of worked out this year.”

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There’s
a fair list of former St. Albert Saints that have gone on to play at the
highest level.

The
most notable would be Mark Messier, who played 71 games from 1977-
79. Troy Murray went on
to play 915 NHL games for Chicago, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Pittsburgh and Colorado.
As with all good Saints, Johnson has heard the inevitable
comparisons to the most recent St. Albert to NHL grad, Mike Comrie.

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“I
hear it sometimes,” he admitted. “But really, you only wish you could be in the
same class as him.”

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To
continue his climb to that kind of status, Johnson believes his defensive game
will need work.

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“I’ve
got to hit the weight room too,” he added. “I’ve been doing it every summer,
but I’ve got to do it religiously this spring and summer. And I’ve got to work
on the little things. A lot of players are good because of their short game,
their chips and little backhand passes. You’ve always got to be looking because
stuff like that helps you out.”

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Saints
coach Mark Holick concurred. “One positive for Nick is the work
ethic,” the coach said. “His is excellent. He comes to work every
single day and he tries as hard as he can. He’s got excellent skills. He skates
very well and he shoots the puck very well. I think he’s a student of the game.
He’s probably one of our most intelligent players. He reads the ice well and
makes good decisions. He’s a solid player, both offensively and defensively. He
takes pride in his ability to play at both ends. He’s a complete player.”

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“Things
that he would need to work on? Consistency. He needs to make sure he can bring
not only his effort every day, but bring that package of skills to the rink
every night.”

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“Other
than that, it’s just getting the strength up. When he understands how to train,
I think he’s going to be that much better. When he understands the type of
sports-specific training that guys are into now, when he gets that in college,
he’s going to be scary. If any player in our league is going to make the NHL,
it’s Nick.”

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Playing
next season with Dartmouth University in the Eastern College Athletic
Conference (a member of the NCAA) will help. The conference includes Yale,
Harvard and Princeton, schools known for having solid hockey programs.

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“It’s
not a big school compared to western universities,” Johnson said. “But they’ve
[Dartmouth] been doing pretty well this year. It’s an Ivy League school, so
I’ll look forward to studying there. And they have a lot of time to work out.
It’s not like the WHL where they play three games a week. College teams only
play on weekends, so there’s more time for practice and weights. We’ll see how
I fit in, but hopefully I’ll be in the line-up right away.”

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But
before he gets ahead of himself, Johnson wants to keep things in
perspective. “It (being listed) doesn’t
get you a whole lot more respect on the ice or anything,” he pointed out.

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“You’ve
still got to work for everything you do. Playing other teams, they’re not going
to think better of you just because you’re on the list. You’ve got to think
about the team.”

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