Outside of Columbus Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger, who was selected by the Vancouver Canucks with the 20th-overall pick in the 2001 National Hockey League Entry Draft, no player with Western Pennsylvania ties has ever been chosen inside of the Top 40.
United States National Development Team defenseman Stephen Johns, a Wampum, Pa. native, hopes to double that total at the 2010 draft in Los Angeles on June 25-26.
Johns, a 6-foot-3, 215 pound blueliner who played his midget hockey in the Pittsburgh Hornets program, and before that suited up for the Lawrence County Lightning, is expected to be a high draft choice after finishing the season ranked No. 35 among North American skaters by Central Scouting.
The 18-year-old Johns talked recently about being proud to represent the Western Pennsylvania region and what it would mean to join the list of highest draft players from this area, which also includes Grant Lewis (Atlanta; 2nd round, 40th overall, 2004), Mike Weber (Buffalo; 2nd round, 57th overall, 2006) and Ryan Malone (Pittsburgh, 4th round, 115th overall, 1999), but at the same time he maintained that he will be thrilled just to hear his name called.
“If I get drafted as the last pick in the draft I will be the happiest kid in the world,” Johns said. “It doesn’t really matter to me where I’m drafted. And if I don’t get picked, I’ll just have to push myself a little bit harder.”
Johns, who said he stood in many “Student Rush” lines at Mellon Arena growing up as a die-hard Penguins fan, admitted that he would be fulfilling a childhood dream if he were to be selected by his hometown team.
“You have no idea what that would mean to me,” Johns exclaimed. “Every kid I have ever gone to school with back home asks, “When will you be playing for the Penguins?” It’s never really ever hit me that I could have the chance to until now. To be able to stay at home and play in the NHL would be a dream come true. I would be at a loss for words.”RELATED ARTICLE: NHL Hockey Players from Western Pennsylvania
If and when Johns’ name is called this weekend, he will be in the STAPLES Center to hear it. Johns is attending the draft along with his parents, brother, sister and a close family friend. He called being at the draft an experience he couldn’t pass up.
“I think it is something that I don’t want to regret not going to,” he said. “To watch all my buddies get drafted, and if I get drafted, it will be an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Johns set himself up for this once-in-a-lifetime experience by starring for the U.S. Development Team the past two seasons, first on the U-17 squad and this season with the U-18 team. Known primarily as a defensive presence – hence naming Brooks Orpik
the player he most admires – Johns tallied three assists and finished a plus-two as the U.S. took home the gold medal in Belarus earlier this spring at the World Under-18 Championships.
|Wampum, Pa. native Stephen Johns is rated No. 35 among North American skaters by Central Scouting. Credit - USDT |
The Notre Dame recruit, who plans to enroll into school this summer to help himself get better acclimated with the college routine, credits his success in international tournaments as a huge step forward in his development.
“It helps you deal with pressure – being in the spotlight,” Johns said. “Playing in front of a crowd of 11,000 in Belarus was insane but it was definitely an experience I can learn from.”
Johns’ stock took a few more steps forward at the scouting combine in Toronto in late May when he displayed his outstanding work ethic to scouts. Johns proved to be one of the off-ice stars after finishing No. 1 in leg power, No. 3 in bench press and No. 3 in upper body strength, further proving his standing as one of the draft’s most impressive physical specimens.
“Whether I am up in Ann Arbor or at home in my gym I push myself to become the best hockey player I can be,” Johns said. “It definitely paid off. I don’t know if it is going to help me, but I went there and showed the scouts as much as I could. I thought I had a pretty good performance.”
Although Johns cannot wait to one day begin what he hopes is a lengthy NHL career as a physical, stay-at-home defender, the professional ranks are going to have to wait at least a few years while he plies his trade at Notre Dame. Johns believes a couple years at the collegiate level will only make him a better player on and off the ice when he finally makes the decision to turn pro.
“I think two, three or all four years of training on and off the ice will make me a stronger kid and help me a lot,” he said. “Playing in front of packed houses every night will help too. Balancing school and hockey will make me more well-rounded in life. It’s going to be a challenge but I can’t wait.”
While Stephen Johns cannot wait for the challenge of one day making it to hockey’s highest level, Western Pennsylvania cannot wait to watch another local product hear his name called by the NHL. It’s going to be another “great day for hockey” this weekend as Pittsburgh’s pipeline to the NHL grows by one.RELATED ARTICLE: Local Product Is A Top Draft Prospect