Johnson, Power look to maximize draft potential

Tuesday, October 13, 2020 - 7:04pm

Incoming Michigan forward Kent Johnson is projected to be a top-five draft pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Incoming Michigan forward Kent Johnson is projected to be a top-five draft pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Mike Hockley

Last week’s NHL Draft was a good two days for college hockey. 65 college players from 25 different schools were chosen by NHL teams — tied for second-most in the last 13 years — according to College Hockey Inc. 

For Michigan, freshman forwards Brendan Brisson and Thomas Bordeleau, along with defenseman Jacob Truscott, were joined by two commits — forward Jackson Hallum and defenseman Ethan Edwards. The group rounded out a draft class that was the third largest in the NCAA. It was the 25th consecutive year that at least one Wolverine was drafted, tied with Boston College for the longest active streak in college hockey. 

Next year, that streak should continue in a major way. In a projection published after the draft, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman ranked defenseman Owen Power, forward Kent Johnson and forward Matty Beniers as the second, third and fifth best prospects eligible for the 2021 draft, respectively. It’s a huge testament to each player’s abilities that they’re rated so highly before even playing a college game. 

But these rankings are far from set in stone, and a lot can change in a year. 

“I think the biggest thing is, they have to play for Michigan,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “I know you’ve got that thought or that expectation down the road and with all the press clippings you can read, but, you know, they’ve just got to work hard and be good productive players here in Michigan and earn their way.”

Carrying the expectations of a high-level hockey player is never easy. On top of perfecting their game, players like Johnson and Power have to make countless difficult decisions, not the least of which is whether to play college hockey or sign a contract with a major junior team. 

With that, there are more factors at play than just academics. The three junior leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League — the WHL, OHL and QMJHL — play a 70-game schedule that some argue better prepares athletes for the grind of an NHL season. On the other hand, college hockey offers better facilities and larger coaching and training staffs. College players are also older and more mature, as they range from 18 to 24 years old, while junior hockey features players between 16 and 21. 

“I think it’s better for my development for me just to play against way older and stronger guys than you would be in juniors,” Power said. “I think it’s gonna be a big jump and find that it’s gonna be a good learning experience.”

With the Big Ten planning a slightly abbreviated season due to COVID-19, Johnson and Power will have fewer chances to showcase their talent before the draft. Without a non-conference slate to hammer out in-game chemistry issues, there will be less room for error as they get acclimated to the higher level of competition. 

Lucky for them, they’ve already had help in that regard. 

“Everyone’s been really good,” Johnson said. “But I think the captains a lot, too, really helped me. Jimmy Lambert and Strauss Mann, Jack Becker, (Nick) Blankenburg — they’re all really good.”

Mock drafts are not an exact science — especially a year in advance. Around this time last year, Brisson was projected to get picked 108th (he ended up going 29th). We follow mock drafts because they’re fun and mildly revealing, not because they’re perfectly accurate. Who doesn’t want to guess who might be hockey’s next big thing? 

Of course, that means Power and Johnson could find themselves in much different positions come next year. Regardless of the hype and outside noise, they’ll need a successful season at Michigan to maintain their top-five status. As Power put it:

“The more you win, the more looks you get.”


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