Stephen Johns admitted on Saturday that he was pulling for the Chicago Blackhawks as they battled the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final a few weeks ago. That’s probably a good thing because Johns joined the Blackhawks organization Saturday after he was drafted by the team with the final pick of the second round (60th overall) in the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles.
Johns, a Wampum native, became the fourth-highest drafted Western Pennsylvanian behind R.J. Umberger (16th overall, 2001; Vancouver), Grant Lewis (40th overall, 2004; Atlanta) and Mike Weber (57th overall, 2006; Buffalo).
“It’s an unbelievable honor to be from Western Pennsylvania,” said Johns from a podium at STAPLES Center just minutes after being selected. “It’s kind of a football area here where (amateur) hockey isn’t really a big sport, but with all the upcoming players (coming out) we are really putting Western Pennsylvania hockey on the map.”
The 18-year-old blueliner credited the Penguins’ Mario Lemieux-led Stanley Cup championship teams of the early 1990s as the main reason he began playing hockey in the small Western Pennsylvania town which historically has been more known for producing basketball talent than hockey players.
“It’s kind of the nickname I have been given – ‘The Mario Baby,’” Johns said. “I grew up watching Mario, (Jaromir) Jagr and Ronnie Francis.”
While Johns spoke prior to the draft of hoping he would get the chance to be picked by the Penguins, Saturday he was just thrilled to hear his team called by an NHL team – especially one like Chicago so steeped in hockey tradition.
|Wampum native Stephen Johns was taken by the Chicago Blackhawks with the 60th overall pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Credit - Getty Images |
“Right now I can’t even explain the feelings that are going through my body right now,” Johns gushed. “To be selected by an organization like Chicago is a dream come true. I couldn’t be happier right now. This is the greatest feeling.”
Johns, who stands an impressive 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, was one of seven players chosen in the first two rounds from the U.S. Under-18 National Team which has had so much success in international competition the past two years, including back-to-back World Under-18 Championships.
“It just shows you what USA Hockey has been lately with all of the gold medals we have been winning and how well we have been competing,” Johns said. “The future is looking really bright.”
The future for Johns includes spending the next few seasons at the University of Notre Dame, where he is planning to enroll early in an effort to get a jump start on acclimating to college life. He said one of the pluses of Notre Dame sitting just an hour and a half outside of Chicago is he can check in on the Blackhawks throughout the year.
“Right now my mindset is on going to Notre Dame and having a good freshman year,” Johns said.
Johns’ selection here in 2010 should only continue the recent pipeline of Western Pennsylvanians being drafted by the NHL as local products Brandon Saad, J.T. Miller, Barrett Kaib and John Gibson are all rated as prospects for the 2011 Entry Draft. Saad was rated the No. 5 2011 prospect recently by The Hockey News.