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Fantasy Spin: Avalanche's Johnson quieting doubters

by Pete Jensen

High expectations have followed Erik Johnson's career since he was taken with the first pick in the 2006 NHL Draft by the St. Louis Blues.

When Johnson was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart in 2011, the pressure shifted to his new role in the Mile High City. Johnson's struggles continued, with the low point coming in 2012-13 when he failed to register a goal in 31 games.

But just when fantasy owners thought he had reached irrelevance, he has navigated his way back into the equation.

Many fantasy owners gave up on Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson after a woeful 2012-13 season, but the No. 1 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft has navigated his way back into the equation. (Photo: Michael Martin/NHLI)

The 25-year-old defenseman scored his fourth goal of the season Tuesday, marking his second in as many games. The last time Johnson had a multi-game goal-scoring streak was in February of 2012. To put things in perspective, Avalanche defensemen combined for only five goals last season, the fewest team total in the League.

For an Avs defensive unit that continues to round into form with some growing pains, Johnson has been a driving force behind the team's surprising start with efficient production in a number of categories.

When looking for waiver wire assets on defense the position often does go beyond scoring, showing how valuable Johnson (owned in 32 percent of Yahoo leagues) has proven to be. Categories such as plus-minus, shots on goal, penalty minutes, hits and blocked shots are categorized in many league formats, and thus taken into account when determining a player's value.

The only two defensemen League-wide to be on the ice for 35-plus team goals and fewer than 20 goals against are Johnson (41/19) and Pittsburgh Penguins blueliner Matt Niskanen (42/14). Johnson is tied for fifth in the NHL with a plus-18 and has registered an even or positive rating in 11 of his past 12 games. He also has 24 penalty minutes, 62 hits, 56 shots on goal and 58 blocked shots in 33 games.

He has seen the second-most power-play minutes among Avalanche defensemen this season (83:42, three power-play points), trailing only Andre Benoit (86:29), but his power-play assist Tuesday shows that there's still room for him to improve and earn more time in those situations. On the plus side, Johnson has seen the most total minutes (738:04) among Colorado defensemen.

Depending on your league format, you may or may not be intrigued by Johnson, who has underachieved in recent seasons after his promising 2009-10 campaign (39 points, 79 penalty minutes, 186 shots). But with so many defensemen underachieving and/or lacking category coverage these days, Johnson has done enough to make fantasy owners forget about his past.

For now, it's all about how much further Johnson can climb up the fantasy ladder in Colorado's remaining 49 games.


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