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Notebook: Coaches Looking for Johnson to Seize His Opportunity

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma has liked what he’s seen from forward Nick Johnson so far this training camp – and he wants that to continue in Thursday’s preseason contest vs. Chicago at CONSOL Energy Center.

Making a memorable impression is something that the Penguins coaching staff discussed with Johnson heading into camp, and he really took it to heart.

Nick Johnson will skate on a line with Jordan Staal Thursday vs. Chicago (Getty Images).
“It’s always been consistency and intensity – really showing effort,” Johnson said. “I work hard, but sometimes I’m under the radar a little bit. They want me to really grab (my opportunity) and run with it.”

He’s been doing just that, starting by reporting to camp in good shape and doing well in his medical and fitness testing. That all translated onto the ice as well.

“He’s looked very good on the ice skating-wise, getting his shot off, doing some of the things he can do,” Bylsma said. “He’s won battles and has been aggressive in that regard – winning battles, taking pucks to the net, winning wall plays. A lot of the areas where he can show he can be a factor.”

During Thursday’s morning skate, Johnson played right wing on a line with left wing Tyler Kennedy and center Jordan Staal.

Johnson can’t wait for the chance to hit the ice with those two players Thursday, and Bylsma will be looking to see what he can do.

“He’s going to get an opportunity tonight, and a pretty good one playing next to Jordan Staal,” Bylsma said. “He’s going to get a very good opportunity to continue to impress in that regard. That’s what he’s got to do.”
Johnson, who signed a one-year contract extension with the Penguins on June 5, has played in 10 NHL games since being drafted by Pittsburgh in the third round (67th overall) in the 2004 Entry Draft.

Johnson has shown he can put up points at both the NHL and American Hockey League (AHL) levels. In 2010-11, he posted a goal and three assists through four games with Pittsburgh in February. Those came after recording 20 goals and 39 points with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his recall.

He’s a big body – 6-foot-1, 183 pounds – that can score. But what Bylsma likes the most about Johnson is the way he uses his size, strength and skating ability to get to the dirty areas.

“He’s a guy who can skate, he’s a bigger body, he can play a physical game, he can drive the net and he’s got a good right-hand shot which he can score goals with,” Bylsma said. “Those are things we’ll look for him to be able to continue to do with his opportunity tonight.”

Defenseman Alexandre Picard has been at Penguins training camp for just over a week now.

Picard, who signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh on July 5, is getting more comfortable within Pittsburgh’s high-tempo, aggressive systems each day.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound blueliner is trying to accelerate the learning curve as best he can, asking questions to the coaches and his teammates about certain areas he doesn’t quite have a handle on yet.

“I’m feeling better every day,” he said. “Coming in and learning a new system, it’s pretty challenging. But the coaches are doing a good job and I’ve been asking a lot of questions.”

However, he still doesn’t feel completely at ease not seeing those game plans in action against a real opponent – which is why he can’t wait for 7 p.m. to arrive so he can gauge where he is on that curve.

“It’s going to be fun tonight to have a real test playing against a real opposing team,” he said. “I’m kind of anxious to see how it’s going to be out there with the system today.”

He explained that he’s not quite at the point where he can go out and execute with no hesitation, which is something he hopes to do tonight.

“It’s just making it a habit where you’re not thinking out there before you do it, where it just becomes a habit,” he said. “That’s what I’m working on right now. I still find myself out there maybe a second too late, but a second too late in the NHL can be really dangerous. It’s just to get familiarized with the system and hopefully it won’t take too long.”

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