So far, it’s been nothing but sunshine and rainbows in this series. I have EVERYONE making the Hawks next year.
Well, let’s add a little controversy into that by evaluating soon-to-be 24-year old, Luke Johnson.
I will begin at the end – I don’t think Luke Johnson will make the Blackhawks this year.
That’s not to say he won’t get some playing time, I just don’t think it’s his time just yet. I think another year in Rockford as a key member of that key will benefit him as a player, and, the Hawks for 2019 and beyond.
I will continue this breakdown by saying, I really like Johnson and was excited to see his progress last year in Rockford. I heard the Hawks took notice as well and excited to see how he develops further this year.
Let’s head back to his history with the University of North Dakota program.
Johnson skated for the Fighting Hawks from 2013-2016 (3 full seasons) and his family has quite a history with the UND program.
His Dad (Steve), Uncle (Chad) and cousin (Paul LaDue, currently with LA Kings) all played there at some point.
Not only did Luke get to play with his cousin LaDue for a few years, but he had Nick Schmaltz as a teammate for a couple of those years as well. He won a National Championship in 2016 with those guys. Unfortunately, Johnson was injured and couldn’t play in that title game but was a huge part of that team.
In April 2016, Johnson signed his first NHL deal (cap hit $717k) and headed to Rockford for the 16-17 season.
Johnson had some growing pains but really found his groove and was named Rookie of the Year in Rockford in his first pro season.
He ended with 17 points (8 goals, 9 assists) in 73 games and was primarily used by Ted Dent as a bottom 6 centre.
Last year was a different story for Johnson as it was the perfect opportunity for him to take the next step.
The IceHogs knew they would have a young team and a new (young) coach in Colliton. Johnson took advantage of that as he got bigger and quicker in the offseason and worked his way up the lineup. By the end of the year and in the playoffs he was one of (if not the most) trusted player on the team.
He improved to 30 points (13 G, 17 A) in 73 games. He led the team in shots with 161.
He’s described as a “pesky centre” and even had 4 fights last year as he led this young team with an “A” on his sweater most nights.
Colliton described his play last year, "He's been productive, he's been on productive lines, he's played on the power play." Colliton added, "He won't be the one who's making the last pass, but he recovers pucks, he's not afraid to go to the net, he's done a good job killing penalties.
Cody Franson chipped in with a comment about his Rockford teammate, "He's a kid that can play on both sides of the puck with a skill set to put him on top lines.”
He’s not going to be confused as a “big” guy at 5’11 / 195 lbs, but he plays bigger than that and has is a battler all over the ice. He’s a fierce competitor and will be coming into the Blackhawks training camp to win a spot on the opening day roster.
Johnson’s ceiling is a 3rd line centre with a really strong 2-way game. He’s good on faceoffs as well.
The former 5-rounder (2013) has a few things going for him to make an impact this year (which I will not be mad at):
* He plays Centre
– the Hawks are very light on the depth chart here so if any injuries occur (*knocks on wood*) he would be near the top to get the call-up.
– as I’ve mentioned in multiple blogs/comments/tweets, the Hawks only have 3 projected RH forwards on the roster (Schmaltz, Debrincat, Hayden)
* Marcus Kruger
– who knows if the Hawks re-acquired the Stanley Cup Winning shutdown pivot or the fading-AHLer. If Kruger stutters out of the gate, Kampf and Johnson would be the in-house replacements.
* He’s Special
– a super versatile player that can step up on the PP and thrive on the PK. He’ll never be a powerplay specialist in the NHL, but a nice skill set to have on his resume in the minors. He’s also special in the sense that he’s a strong character and is proving to be a clutch performer with key goals in the AHL playoffs last year.
So, I will challenge Luke Johnson to make the Hawks this October, but I feel like his time is October 2019. I envision him as the Hawks 4th line centre as he enters the last year of his pro contract.
Another year as Colliton’s go-to centre could really do him wonders.
What do you think?
See ya out there!
(courtesy of Elite Prospects)