Now in his seventh season in the NHL, it's hard to believe Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson has yet to play in a playoff game. That will no longer be the case.
"I'm really excited," Johnson said two days prior to playing in his first postseason contest. "The first two games are going to be here in Denver. It's going to be rocking."
Selected first overall by St. Louis in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Johnson played most of his first four seasons with the Blues before the Avs acquired him in a trade during the 2010-11 campaign.
|Erik Johnson |
St. Louis was a team rebuilding at the time and only made the postseason once during Johnson's time there, and it just so happened to be the same year that he missed the entire season with a knee injury.
"The year I was in St. Louis [when they made the playoffs] I was hurt so I couldn’t play than, and it’s been a couple of years since I have been here now [in Colorado]," he said. "It’s nice to finally get over the hump, and I think everybody knew this team was close, but it’s nice to finally get back.”
Johnson had one of the best seasons of his career in 2013-14. He led all Colorado defensemen in scoring as he tied a career high with 39 points and had a career-best 30 assists. Of the nine goals he tallied, maybe Johnson's prettiest came on a coast-to-coast, deke and score in the Avs' win in Edmonton on April 8.
"You’re not doing those types of plays if you’re not a confident player," head coach Patrick Roy said of the goal. "He is a confident player right now.”
He also became a force as a defensive defenseman this season. Johnson led the Avs in ice time at 23:00, delivered 136 hits (sixth on team) and had 49 takeaways (fourth on team).
"What I like about EJ is when he gets those pucks behind him he uses his body to protect himself," Roy said. "He's really good at picking up the loose puck and making quick transitions. The thing I also saw him improving is his defensive-zone coverage. He’s doing a really good job and now moving up on their third forward that likes to be in the slot area. You can tell he is playing with a lot of confidence the way he carries the puck, and the way he’s patient in the neutral zone."
The Avs will need Johnson to continue playing a solid two-way game in the postseason.
"I think the intensity goes up, the pace and the speed," he said. "I think it’s one of those things that for us defensemen, we have to be ready for the pressure, that every team we play is going to be on us.
"We are going to have to handle a heavy load, and I think we are up to the challenge.”
For the Avalanche, this year's playoffs are special for many reasons. The first-round opponent is one of the reasons for Johnson.
Johnson grew up in Bloomington, Minn., and his family has had season tickets to the Minnesota Wild since the team's inception in 2000.
This time, the Johnson clan will be trading the Wild's forest green and red colors for those of he Avalanche's burgundy and blue.
"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. "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."