The 2013-14 season was one of the best of Erik Johnson's career and was a nice bounce back after a disappointing campaign the year before. Before training camp, he was given the green light by new head coach Patrick Roy to only look forward and to be himself.
"I had a great conversation with Erik," Roy said. "I'm confident he's going to have a very good year. We're going to work hard with him to not live in the past; it's now. 'Don't worry about the first overall thing; it's over. We want you to be who you are.' Erik needs to be Erik Johnson. Go hard, go out there and play his game and be himself. We're going to try and bring a lot of confidence to his game. Yes, we want him to play better defensively, but we don't want to take away his offensive skills."
Having Roy and executive vice president of hockey operations Joe Sakic around was something Johnson hoped would bring a winning atmosphere back to Colorado. He knew that having the two Hall of Fame players around would set a new tone around the young core of the Avalanche.
"They both won here in Colorado, so they know what it was like and how it was done, the ins and outs of everything about being a winning team," Johnson told NHL.com. "Just their attitude and their presence and their knowledge will go a long way for our young group. Just the winning mentality, I think, will be really, really good for us. The knowledge and the swagger that they have, I think they can translate that into building a team."
The winning mentality rubbed off on the young Avalanche, and Johnson played a pivotal part by anchoring the blue line. He led all Avs in ice time by averaging 23:00 per game, becoming the first Colorado player to average 23 minutes or more a night since Kyle Quincey in 2009-10.
Offensively, he was first in scoring for defensemen as he tied his career high with 39 points (nine goals and 30 assists). Johnson played in 80 games during the regular season, which also marked the most among Colorado defenders. He would also post a career-high plus-5 rating.
Johnson's stable presence helped lead the Avalanche to its first division title since 2003 and his first career playoff appearance, which happened to come against the team from his home state of Minnesota.
"Going home for me will be even more of a comfort zone. It's where I grew up, it's where I live in the summer, I have a house there," Johnson said before the playoffs. "It is almost going to be like playing at home for me. I'll have a lot of friends and family there, and it is a definite advantage I think."
In his first taste of playoff hockey, he would see his role increase with his average ice time rising to 26:01 per game. He also added a goal and an assist in the series and made a big save in Game 1 as the puck was sliding toward the Avs' empty net late in regulation.
Coach Roy was rewarding Johnson for playing with the confidence he set out to get from him at the beginning of the season.
“First of all, EJ is a really good hockey player. Right now he’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Roy said before Game 1 of the playoff series against the Wild. “In his case, it’s more confidence than anything else. He deserves a lot of credit for what’s going on with him.”