After revealing who came in at #20 on the In Lou We Trust Top 25 Devils Under 25 list on Wednesday, we go from one of the oldest players ranked to one of the youngest. Ben Johnson will be 18 throughout the 2012-13 season as he suits up for his second season with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. The New Jersey Devils drafted him in the third round of the 2012 Entry Draft as he showed plenty of improvement as a rookie in the OHL. He showed off plenty of desirable skills, enough that we felt he was worthy of inclusion within the top 20 of our Top 25 Under 25 list. (Note: Height and weight are from Windsor's official site; stats are from Elite Prospects.)
#19 - Ben Johnson - LW/C - Height: 6'0" - Weight: 192 lbs. - Age: 18 - 2012-13 Team: Windsor (OHL)
Back when Johnson was drafted, I put together this summary of scouting reports and information about the player. There's a lot to like in there about Johnson. First, he's a great skater. That may not seem like much, but being able to skate fast, smooth, and in control is a desirable trait. It's a skill that can be utilized, as well as a point of development. Second, he plays both ways. He's not just a forward for Windsor. He forechecks, he plays defense, he can perform well with the puck, and he kills penalties. As a rookie with Windsor, he's already proven to be a versatile player. That can help him how he can be used in future depending on how he develops. Third, he showed improvement in his first season in the OHL. I think this is a big reason why he got some attention by scouts and ultimately got drafted. When he joined Windsor, he was an unknown player. He crushed it in high school in Michigan and he got some appearances in the USHL and the U.S. U-17 team. However, the OHL is a completely different level of play for a young guy. Windsor acquired Johnson and started him on the fourth line. That didn't stop Johnson. As he acclimated to the new league, he rose up Windsor's depth chart to play on their top two lines. The coaches gave Johnson more and more responsibilities and they were rewarded him with more. That's a great to see from any prospect.
That all said, Johnson slipped all the way down to 90th overall in the draft and we rated him only at #19. It didn't help that he was goalless in his first 24 games with Windsor. While he did tally 18 in the following 44 games - which is great - it belies that his offensive game needed time to develop. It's an open question on how high his offensive ceiling is. Don't get me wrong, it's great that he produced as he did when mired with an extended slump to start his OHL career. This is the season where we'll learn whether that was more of the result of his improvement or whether that was more driven by a hot streak or some other circumstance. Even if he does have a great season in terms of scoring, it's not clear whether his offensive skills can get to the next level. That's not a bad thing, but it does make the difference between whether Johnson has top-six potential or bottom-six potential. Right now, either would be fine given the lack of forwards in the system. Though I will admit top-six potential would be more favorably looked upon than bottom-six potential. That's not a knock on him but it explains why he isn't any higher on the list.
Basically, we just want to see more from him. Last season, he worked his way up to an important role on Windsor. Now, we want to see if he can keep and excel in that same role. So it's not just about getting more points, but it's also finding out that he's still killing penalties, he's getting tough matchups, and he's staying smart on the ice. Johnson showed he's got skills, now he's got to refine them and continue to grow as a player. Since he is so young, he has plenty of time to develop and get more experience. If he can continue to improve, then there's no reason but to rate him better next year. Perhaps by then we'll have a better idea of his upside. Given what scouts have said about his work ethic, I wouldn't be surprised if he does. Again, there's a lot to like about Ben Johnson.
What do you like about Ben Johnson? What don't you like about his game, if anything? Do you think we rated him too high, too low, or just about right? What do you expect from Johnson as he continues to play for Windsor this season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Johnson in the comments. Thank you for reading.