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Johns' progress could be great sign for Stars' defense

The veteran blueliner continues to make positive strides, appearing with prospects at the team's Development Camp

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

While Development Camp is mostly about getting younger players ready for their path to the NHL, it could have an extra preparation element this summer for the Dallas Stars.

Veteran defenseman Stephen Johns was on the ice at Comerica Center in Frisco on Tuesday, going through drills and testing himself along with the group of prospects. Johns, who missed all of last season with a brain injury, is making strides in the hopes he can play next season.

"It's really exciting," said Stars coach Jim Montgomery. "Hopefully, this is the first of many positive signs towards what he is going to be able to do for us next year."

 

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Johns, 27, went through training camp last fall and then started to have symptoms similar to a concussion. He had not had a concussion in training camp, and the team is not labeling his injury a concussion, rather calling it post-traumatic headaches.

While Johns tried to come back from the problems last season, he kept having setbacks. Eventually, the Stars shut him down and kept him off the practice ice.

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He has slowly worked his way back into regular workouts on his own and this is a good chance to continue to push himself. Johns is not yet ready to talk to the media about his issues, and the team has also been careful about digging too deep. But Montgomery said there are signs Johns is feeling better.

"When a guy has been out as long as he has been, you don't want to ask him every day about how he is feeling," Montgomery said. "But today after he skated, I asked him how he felt, and he said he felt good. That's a positive sign and hopefully that continues."

Johns could be a huge part of what the Stars can do next season. Johns averaged 17:33 in time on ice in 2017-18 and led the team in hits (201) and blocked shots (155). That led to him signing a three-year contract extension that averages $2.35 million per season.

"He's long, he has length, he can skate, he's big, he's physical, he can handle people down low, he can score goals with a bomb of a shot," Montgomery said. "There are a lot of elements to his game that are going to make the Dallas Stars better."

At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Johns is one of the bigger players on the team. He's also a right-handed shot, which could make him the perfect fit to play beside left-handed Miro Heiskanen.


"Yes. Because of his length, because of his lateral movement, and his ability to skate and take away time and space and Miro's ability to read off someone," Montgomery said when asked if he could be a good partner for Heiskanen. "If you look at all of the different partners Miro has had, it seemed like he could assimilate to any new partner within half a period."

Getting a chance to see what that second pairing could look like in training camp would be one of the more important moments of the season, Montgomery said.

"I think everybody's minutes will get to where they should be and it would allow us to play three pairings a lot more," Montgomery said of the potential return of Johns. "Everybody's minutes come down, his minutes would be right where you would expect as a No. 4 defenseman in the league.

"It just makes us so much more dynamic. It makes us more versatile."

And while it's only June, that's a nice thought to have right now.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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