As Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson gets ready to enter his 11th season in the NHL, he has a lot to reflect back on.
The Bloomington, Minnesota, native was drafted first overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2006 and joined the Avalanche in the spring of 2011. Over the course of his NHL career, Johnson has played in 575 games and accrued 237 total points (61 goals, 176 assists). He has gained the title of NHL All-Star and lost four teeth along the way.
Johnson is celebrated for both his strong two-way playing style and his enigmatic presence off the ice. He trains hard in practice and is a friendly joker in the locker room. He is a horse aficionado and spends his spare time tending to and rooting for the racehorses he owns. He refers to his animals as "true athletes" and can often be found praising their accomplishments on Twitter.
Johnson is outstandingly attentive to those around him, whether they have four legs or two. As the 29-year-old cements his status as an NHL veteran, he works hard to give back and be a role model for younger players looking for success in the professional ranks.
"I still feel like a kid at heart. I don't try and take myself too seriously, but I take my job seriously and my role seriously," he said. "I take a lot of pride in being a leader on the team because you can shape and affect the ways some younger guys look at you. You can help their career out by setting an example through your practice style, your game and your recovery."
In addition to modeling some ways an NHL player should act, Johnson also provides rookies with wise advice on how to think. He advocates for a day-to-day attitude--when the whirlwind of the season threatens to overwhelm, Johnson says the best way to act is to remain relaxed and take one day at a time.
"Don't get too high, don't get too low," he advised. "You're going to have a lot of high moments. You're going to have a lot of moments where you don't feel too good about yourself. You know, you might have a hat trick one night and you think the game's easy and then you get brought back down to earth the next night with a sub-par performance. So I think the best thing to do is to stay even-keel because at the end of the day, it'll all even itself out."
The towering 6-foot-4, 225-pound D-man has cultivated perspective and work ethic this past decade, but he has never lost his love of the game.
"I do feel like a veteran, but I still feel like a kid at heart," he said, smiling. "I still love coming to the rink and playing hockey. You want to appreciate every day in the NHL because at one point they're going to tell you that you can't play anymore. So, you got to always keep bettering your game, working hard and perfecting your craft."
As the 2017-18 season approaches, Johnson's excitement is palpable. After a tough year made worse by injury--Johnson was sidelined for 12 weeks with a broken fibula--the defender is healthy and ready for the fresh start of a new campaign.
"I'm looking forward to a better year than last year," he stated. "Hopefully, I can stay healthy and we can make a bigger impact as a group. We're going in with a fresh slate and everyone has high expectations for themselves and for the group. It's been a fun summer, but it's been too long. I'm ready to get back at it."