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Family, hockey blend nicely for Lincoln's Johnson

Thursday, 10.11.2012 / 4:05 PM / Prospects

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Family, hockey blend nicely for Lincoln's Johnson
Luke Johnson is following his father's footsteps and gearing up for the CCM/USA All-American Prospects Game.

It wasn't like seeing a carbon copy, but when Jim Johannson, the executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, saw the Lincoln Stars' Luke Johnson in action, it felt like he had seen the young forward before.

"I played with and against his dad and he reminds me so much of his dad," Johannson told NHL.com.

Steve Johnson was chosen by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 1987 supplemental draft and after four solid seasons at the University of North Dakota, he spent two seasons in the International Hockey League.

Luke, rated as an A skater by NHL Central Scouting in its preliminary rankings of the top prospects for the 2013 NHL Draft, is expected to go a bit further in his hockey career.

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"He's a really smart centerman, sees the ice well, uses linemates," Johannson said. "He makes linemates better. You can see that he's grown up in a hockey family and been well-coached. He does everything you want a guy to do."

He did a lot last season for Lincoln, where he tied for second on the team in assists (35) and points (55) in 55 games. He also had 20 goals, including five on the power play and four game-winners.

He started the 2012-13 season well, with a goal and an assist in three United States Hockey League preseason games, and earned an invitation to the inaugural CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game. He had two shots on goal, three hits and won nine of 16 faceoffs there.

"The one thing you notice right away about him is how he moves his skates, especially with the puck," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "He's a guy that does not change in what he does or what he accomplishes when he's skating without the puck versus when he's skating with the puck. He's very impressive that way. He gets to top speed almost instantaneously. It's not like he needs any length of the ice to get going. You have a lot of confidence in a guy translating to the next level when he has that skating ability. You're not worried about, is he able to handle the pace of the game?

"And then you look at what he does with the puck -- he's creative, his offensive thinking is really top end. He shoots the puck great, as well. The puck comes off his stick well, he's got an accurate shot. … Those are the things you notice right away with him. He's a smart hockey player. He knows the spot to be, he can get into a soft area to where a puck will come. People will make the comment like he always seems to be around the puck or have the puck. Part of that is because of how he thinks the game and what he's able to do."

This season will be Johnson's second in Lincoln, and long before he dreamed of playing in the NHL, his goal was to play for the Stars, his hometown team.

"Growing up I always dreamed of playing for the Stars," Johnson told NHL.com. "Getting that opportunity now is a dream come true. I'm very excited about it."

The Stars long have been a family tradition for Johnson. His father coached the team from 1996-2006. His uncle, Chad Johnson, served as coach in 2010. And teammate Paul Ladue is a cousin.

"It's great to be with family and it makes [everything] easier," Johnson said.

Having so much family around the team allowed Johnson to have extra access to his hockey heroes as a youngster.

"I pretty much lived at the rink," he said. "I grew up with some great players. It was always fun to be around them, just to learn from them. It was a great opportunity for me. David Backes, he was a great player back then. I think my favorite player was Ryan Potulny."

"Growing up I always dreamed of playing for the Stars.  Getting that opportunity now is a dream come true. I'm very excited about it." -- Luke Johnson

Johnson is trying to take the lessons he learned from those Lincoln alums and put them into practice today. While the offensive side of his game is sound, like most offensively gifted players his age, defensive-zone responsibility is an area he needs to improve.

"It's probably something he hasn't had to concentrate on through his career," Gregory said, "probably because he's been creating and carrying the puck most of the time. You can see how he's going to have to commit himself more in that area, using those same abilities he has on the offensive side to do the same thing in the defensive part of the game."

He'll also need to get a bit stronger, as he measures in at 5-foot-11 and 178 pounds -- which makes his decision to play next season at the University of North Dakota a wise one.

"He's skilled, [but] the physical maturity hasn't come yet," NHL Network analyst Craig Button told NHL.com. "For a lot of players, going to college, especially a player like him, really benefits them. The biggest thing they need is time -- time to physically develop and physically mature. … For him to be ultimately successful, he needs physical maturity. It [college] is a good, slow build."

And like playing for Lincoln, there's a Johnson family tradition that comes with playing for UND.

"They've got great facilities there," Johnson said. "Their hockey is great too. With my dad and my uncle playing there, it kind of helped. I also have a lot of family out there."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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