The 32 year old centre is currently ranked 124th in the NHL for blocked shots, fourth overall among forwards, with 63 blocks this season. Drafted 36th overall in the 1994, Johnson’s diligent work ethic and constant drive to hone his skills has contributed to his success over his 11-year NHL career.
Get to know a different side of the Thunder Bay native. Go offside with Ryan Johnson. Tell us about your first NHL game.
I was playing in the minors in New Haven, Connecticut, that was the farm team for the Florida Panthers. I got called up, flew into Washington and was told that I was going to play the next night. I went out to dinner with, now a bunch of Hall of Famers. We had an older team with Scott Mellanby, Dave Gagner, and John Vanbiesbrouck. I don't think I said a word through dinner, so it was kind of a surreal experience. I was just a sponge, taking everything in.
We won and I played a lot. I was playing against Adam Oates, they told me I was going to play against him the entire night to try to shut him down. Again, I was sitting there going 'I can't believe I'm being asked to shut down this Hall of Famer'. I was trying not to get too caught up in it and approach it like any other game, but obviously that was really hard to do. If the team participated in the show Survivor, who would win?
[Looks around the room at the locker stalls of Hansen, Hordichuk, Burrows, Kesler, and Luongo] No one on that wall, I know that. Willie Mitchell, hands down. He fishes, I could see him winning. Willie thinks a lot, he digests a lot of things, so he would find a way for sure.
I think I would do okay. I'm not an outdoorsy-guy at all, really to the point where it's sad. I can't stay in a tent, but I have a very high pain tolerance or tolerance to deal with things, so lack of food and things I think I could get through it. What is the story behind your number?
There really isn't one. I've never been a superstitious number guy or anything like that. When I signed here I'd been wearing #17 for the last eight or nine years. Obviously Kes has that, so I just said whatever is available, and #10 worked out.
#17 didn't really have any significance, it was given to me. When I came into the League I was like 'look I'll wear #102 if that's what it's going to take', it doesn't matter to me. I've never really gotten caught up in the numbers thing. If not hockey, then...
I'd probably be a struggling musician playing out of the back of a van and driving around North America trying to get gigs. I play the guitar and love music and spend a lot of time with it. Music kind of runs my life. There's a good chance I'd be doing something in that area. Who was your favourite athlete growing up?
I really idolized my two older brothers. They were five and six years older than me, so to me a lot of times they were my heroes in a sense. Everything they did or everything they played I wanted to do. They played hockey, we were a very active family.
So I mean whatever they did, if they went and played double-dutch, I wanted to play double-dutch. Whatever they did I wanted to emulate them and do it exactly how they did. So they were probably my two biggest mentors. Who has the best nickname on the team?
We don't have too many, we have Kes, and Burrs and Lus. I've played on some teams where there are some real doozies, but we're almost pretty boring when it comes to nicknames. Any ones that stand out?
Keith Tkachuk [former teammate on the Blues] was called Big Walt because there was a Walt Tkachuk that played back in the day. So he always referred to himself in third person as Big Walt. If you knew Keith maybe you'd understand it a little bit more, but he would refer to himself, like 'Big Walt's hungry'. I know it sounds weird but I always got a kick out of it. What do you miss most about your hometown?
The people. Thunder Bay is not a big city, about a 100,000 people, but the people there are special. Anybody that ever comes to visit, that's what they always say, that the people are so friendly and welcoming. So, that's probably the biggest thing. What is your favourite non-hockey sports team?
I don't watch a lot of sports away from hockey. I don't know why, I guess I always seem to follow the Toronto Blue Jays, just because they're the lone Canadian team. It's not like I sit down and watch games, but me and my friends have always followed them. Whenever we talk we'll always throw in a 'how are the Jays doing'. It's not a huge thing. What is your most prized possession?
That's a tough one. I lost my dad not too long ago and my mom had given me, just something to have from him, his graduation ring from McMaster University. So I keep that, I bring it in my pocket to all of my games and keep it up on my desk so I can see it all the time.
I'm not a materialistic guy, I don't have things that I have to have. But that's something more of a sentimental thing that I keep with me all the time.