In the buildup to the start of college hockey season, The Daily is breaking down the film on Michigan’s heralded nine-man freshman class. In this installment: forward Kent Johnson.
In 1996, Mike Legg wrote his name into hockey lore when he pulled off a goal so absurd it would come to be known as “The Michigan.” Holding the puck behind the net, he lifted it with his stick, carried it around and dumped it in over the goalie’s shoulder, tying up the game against Minnesota in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
A few NHL players have done the move over the years, but it requires a lot of finesse and guts to pull it off in a game.
Freshman forward Kent Johnson did it twice in one season.
Johnson is a threat to score from literally anywhere on the ice, even behind the net. Both of these goals require a lot of skill, and a lot of intelligence. Johnson dissects where the defense is exposed and realizes they are waiting for him to make a move in front of the net, giving him space to operate down low. He picks up the puck, and before the defender or the goalie can react, he’s already deposited the puck into the top left corner of the net. This craftiness has people buzzing about Johnson and what he could add to the Wolverines’ offense.
Since Johnson does not turn 18 until mid-October, he will not be eligible for the NHL Draft until 2021. But Johnson is already regarded as a top 10 pick in that draft, and his age has not affected his ability to compete with players two to three years older than him.
In fact, Johnson has dominated his elder opponents.
Johnson tore apart the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) last year, posting 41 goals and 60 assists in 52 games for the Trail Smoke Eaters. His 101 points led the entire BCHL and earned him league MVP honors.
Here, Johnson’s all-around playmaking abilities are on display. He advances the puck to the neutral zone and when he feels the pressure from the defender on the left side, he continues to move the puck with only his right hand.
Johnson then shows off his vision. As two opposing players surround him, he sees the winger coming up the center of the ice and feeds him a pass through the defender’s legs. That, in itself is an elite level play.
He then trails the lead winger, takes a drop pass, stickhandles multiple times without losing speed and rips home a shot to beat the goalie blocker side. This is a plethora of highlights packed into just one shift on the ice, but that’s just the norm for Johnson.
Johnson is dynamic from one end of the ice to other, and there is no stopping him. He has an aggressive and daring style of play. Most players trying to pull off daring stickhandling moves, between the legs passes and puck-lifting goals would be benched for playing too recklessly. Johnson, however, can afford to take these risks because he’s that far ahead of his competition.
It’s what allows him to pull off a shootout goal like this:
The crazy part about this goal is that Johnson doesn’t actually do anything. He’s built up such a reputation for crazy dangles and between the legs moves that the goalie is anticipating Johnson to pull something out of his bag of tricks. Instead, Johnson plays off of this and just puts his head down, skates forward and shoots. The goalie never even drops down.
The transition for most freshmen making the jump from juniors to the college level is difficult. It takes time to get acclimated to the speed and size of players, especially in the Big Ten. For Johnson though, he’s never been afraid of a challenge. He possesses transcendent talent that should terrify the rest of the league, and he’s not going to shy away from his competition.
In fact, he is poised to dominate them.