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Johnson "absolutely thrilled" to join the Pens

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

When Jim Rutherford called Jack Johnson on Sunday to arrange getting his signature on the five-year contract they had agreed to, the Penguins general manager learned the defenseman was just an hour outside of Pittsburgh.

Johnson and his wife Kelly decided to drive in today to start house hunting. He's that excited to get going with his new team, saying he's "absolutely thrilled" to join the organization.

"It just seemed like a perfect fit in every which way," Johnson said. "Feel very blessed to have the opportunity to be here, to be a Pittsburgh Penguin. My wife and I say it checks all the boxes for us, great place to bring the family, great opportunity for hockey. I've been really wanting to be a part of a winning culture and a place where the expectations to win are as high as they can be and have a chance to win. I don't think I could've asked for a better opportunity here."

The Penguins feel that Johnson - whose deal runs through the 2022-23 campaign and has an average annual value of $3.25 million - will bring more balance to the blue line, something Rutherford felt they missed last season.

"One of the things that we lacked last year was three pairings that we had a puck mover on," Rutherford said. "Jack's a good skater, good puck mover. He can play both sides, he can play on either specialty team."

The 31-year-old just finished his 12th season in the NHL, including the past six-plus years with Columbus (before that, he played for Los Angeles). After recording 11 points (3G-8A), 101 hits and 135 blocked shots in 77 regular-season games with the Blue Jackets, Johnson was a healthy scratch during the postseason.

While both men declined to get into specifics as to why Johnson was relegated to the press box, Rutherford did say that he wasn't scratched because of his play.

He added that the Penguins coaching staff - particularly Mike Sullivan and Sergei Gonchar - have done their due diligence on Johnson's game, and feel that he's going to be a difference-maker here in Pittsburgh.

"Sully watched the three games leading up to when he was put in the press box and we felt he actually played pretty well," Rutherford said. "The coaches, Gonch and Sully, have gone over the tapes over and over watching him play and we feel very strong about this player, that he's going to improve our team."

The Penguins' transition game was a big reason behind winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, with Sullivan speaking often about how sometimes their best defense takes place up the ice. That style suits Johnson well.

"Your job is to play defense first and contribute on the offense when you can, and getting the puck out of our zone as quickly as possible is part of playing defense," Johnson said. "The less time we spend down there the better. Being able to get it to world-class players like Sid and (Evgeni) Malkin and (Phil) Kessel, the list goes on and on. Makes my job a little bit easier and a lot more fun."

In Pittsburgh, Johnson will be reunited with Crosby, who was his teammate at boarding school and hockey powerhouse Shattuck-St. Marys. Johnson was originally drafted by Rutherford and the Carolina Hurricanes with the third-overall selection in the 2005 NHL Draft, two picks after the Penguins chose Crosby first overall.

"He's the one who drives the boat around here and I know him well enough to know that he's the kind of guy that wants five Cups, and the minute he gets a fifth he's going to want a sixth," Johnson said. "That's important to me to be a part of that, to have someone like him leading the charge on that. All those things factored into this being a wonderful opportunity."

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