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Johnson Gets Passing Grade

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues
The Blues' Erik Johnson finished second among rookie defenseman in scoring with 33 points (Getty Images).
Nobody is more critical of Erik Johnson than, well…Erik Johnson.

The Blues defenseman, who just completed a solid season as a rookie in the NHL, says he expects a lot more of himself in years to come.

“People think you play a really good game, but you can always play better,” Johnson said. “You can’t be perfect every night, but you can definitely try. That’s the big thing I try to do.”

Johnson shows a tremendous amount of maturity for just having turned 20. As a No. 1 overall draft choice in 2006, the blueliner carried high expectations into his rookie season and turned in a strong showing, yet he’s smart enough to realize he can be even more consistent game-to-game. Overall though, he’d give himself a passing grade.

“Probably a B-minus,” Johnson said of his first season in the league. “I critique myself hard because I think I can play a lot better every night. I’m not satisfied with a good game that I play or a bad game. I just want to get better.”

And get better, he did.

The season didn’t start as well as Johnson had anticipated. Despite scoring his first goal in just his second game, he suffered a slight bone fracture in his foot that kept him from playing in the team’s home opener. But even after getting healthy, Johnson struggled to get himself back into the lineup, as the team had six healthy defenseman play well to start the season.

Erik Johnson - #6
Check out Johnson's bio, stats and highlights from his rookie season in the NHL.

Biography | Stats | Highlights
As the season went on, though, Johnson’s ice time increased, and the league took notice when it selected him to participate in the YoungStars game in January, where some of the league’s best up-and-coming players showcase their skills on All-Star weekend.

“I think I learned a lot by playing less minutes early on and then getting some bigger minutes as the season wore on,” he said. “For the most part, I think it was tough not to play when I didn’t play, but this year is more of an experience for me to learn and see how things went.”

As a Blues' first round draft pick himself, Barret Jackman went through a similar process in 2002-03, his first full season in the NHL.

“It was a learning experience for the first couple months, learning the business and what it takes,” Jackman said recently. “I think (Johnson) thrived in the second half of the season and really showed the fans and his teammates what we have to look forward to.”

Similiar to Barret Jackman's experience, Johnson's first season required learning what it takes to stick in the NHL (Getty Images).
Johnson finished the year second in scoring among rookie defenseman with 5 goals and 28 assists (33 points). The leader, Atlanta’s Tobias Enstrom, finished with 38 points.

All signs point to a bright future for the former No. 1 overall draft pick.

“If you remember, two years ago he was playing in high school and the U.S. Development team,” Jackman said. “He’s made some big steps. With the experience, he’s gotten more confident with what he was doing on the ice and realized how to play the game at the NHL level.”

It seems like just yesterday that Johnson was in St. Louis to sign his first pro contract, but it was a year ago that Blues owner Dave Checketts welcomed Johnson to St. Louis by explaining what Blues fans expect of their players: hard work, tremendous effort, a commitment to the community and a desire to win.

Johnson has shown each one of those characteristics.

“I think he’s been smart with taking in a lot of advice and learning throughout the year from different people,” Jackman added. “He’s a great kid, he’s willing to work and willing to do things that are going to make him a better player.”

With one season under his belt, what exactly did Johnson learn about playing in the big leagues?

“Enjoy every moment,” he said without hesitation. “The season goes by really fast and it’s a lot of fun. You’re pretty fortunate to get this experience in the NHL…it’s a privilege. Just have fun.

“I think that’s the No. 1 thing.”

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