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Prospects Update | Johnson's game evolving at University of Minnesota

2019 first-round pick has been consistent presence on Gophers blue line

by Griffin Della Penna @GriffinDP_ /

Ryan Johnson has been busy since the last time he took the ice in Buffalo. 

The Sabres selected the defenseman in the first round (31st overall) of the 2019 Draft. He attended development camp that summer and then headed off to the University of Minnesota for his freshman season. 

Then the pandemic hit, and Buffalo has not been able to hold a traditional development camp since.

Over the last three years, Johnson has continued his development with the Gophers and is now listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, up an inch and 20 pounds since his draft year. 

Johnson's biggest strength has always been his elite skating ability, which makes him excel at moving the puck up ice. 

"Even though I'm not a huge defenseman as far as size, I make up for it with my speed and quickness when breaking out the zone with the puck," Johnson said. 

Johnson has suited up for 76 regular-season games for the Golden Gophers. He has missed only four contests - all last year as a result of playing for Team USA at the 2021 IIHF Junior Championship, where he won a gold medal.  

This season as a Big 10 preseason second-team selection, Johnson has dressed in all 24 games for Minnesota, scoring a career-high two goals and nine assists. He's top five on the team in both plus/minus rating (plus-8) and blocked shots (27).

As an upperclassman, Johnson has put an emphasis on improving the little things that can help him transition easier to professional hockey, like his hockey IQ and coachability.

"In my three years, I've matured in learning how to play in structure under a specific system and how coach [Bob Motzko] wants me to play," Johnson said. 

"I've learned so much about myself as a player with what works for me and what doesn't. I'm still trying to be creative and trying new things to take my game to the next level."

The Sabres development staff has also maintained solid communication with one of their top prospects in the system. He says the development coaches frequently check in and always contact him before they come to see him play. 

"Whether it's Tim [Kennedy], Nate [Paetsch], or even GM Kevyn Adams, they've all put a lot of effort into me," he said. "It's really cool to see and makes me very confident in the future."

Tweet from @GopherHockey: Fun fact: In the last 2 games at 3M Arena at Mariucci, Ryan Johnson has scored a goal

The Irvine, California native has always been around hockey due to his father, Craig, who played in the NHL for a decade, primarily for the Los Angeles Kings. Johnson played for the Jr. Anaheim Ducks before joining the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL for his draft year.

As a 17-year-old with Sioux Falls, the left-shot blue liner finished second in team scoring among defenseman and tied for second among all rookie defenseman in the league. He was named to the USHL All-Rookie Team, and the Stampede went on to win the 2019 Clark Cup.

The Sabres then selected Johnson with the final pick in the first round that summer. 

"Just that whole year pretty eventful," he said. "After we won the championship, there was the (NHL) Combine and then going to the draft with my whole family in Vancouver and having my family with me when my name was called was something I'll never forget."

Johnson feels confident that he will be able to take the next step in his career sooner rather than later. He's paid attention to the Sabres throughout the season and is thrilled to be a part of what is being built for the future. 

"I really do see lots of positives within the organization right now," he said. "They have continued to draft skilled players and develop them. It's just a matter of time before things really start to click in Buffalo." 

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