The New Jersey Devils selected Ben Jonhson with their third round pick, 90th overall, in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. According to his prospect card at NHL.com, he's officially listed at 6'0", 186 pounds, he can play left wing or center, he shoots left, and he's a cousin of Devils 2011 draft pick Blake Pietila. Johnson just completed his first season of Canadian major junior hockey with the Windsor Spitfires. Here are his stats from Elite Prospects:
For a rookie in the OHL, that's not too bad. While he's a late third round pick, he's not an unknown pick. In fact, Johnson cracked the lower tenth of the Corey Pronman's top 100 over at the Hockey Prospectus. Here's what HP prospect guru had to say about him:
Johnson had an okay first OHL season but played well considering he made the jump from high school hockey to the major junior ranks this season. It is very hard to project what Johnson could be in the pro game, as he has one tremendous skill in his skating and nothing else about his game really stands out to a significant degree. He's a high-end mover who is agile with a powerful first few steps that let him gain a lot of ground with little effort, and when he's on, he simply jets all across the rink. Johnson will play a fine physical game and shows spurts of being an energy forward who will forecheck hard, drive the net, and take his assignment with the body effectively. Johnson will show flashes of offensive creativity and there is some skill to his game, but he's still pretty raw and doesn't show that often enough. He's the kind of player worth a flier, as there is skill to his game that could come together, and if not, he's more likely the kind of player who becomes a bottom-six forward.
So he's got speed and aggression but he's got a long way to go. That's just fine for a late third rounder in my view. If I have any complaints about the selection, it has more to do with who was available and not necessarily with Johnson himself. Still, there's no point focusing on what could be when we can focus on what happened. Let's learn more about the New Jersey Devils' third round draft pick, Ben Johnson, after the jump. (Note: The original post was up at 11:04 AM, it has since been updated.)
A Few Other Outside Opinions on Ben Johnson
Since Johnson played for Windsor of the OHL, I was hoping that Brock Otten of OHL Prospects has a take on the player. I was right in thinking he did. Otten ranked Johnson 38th on his list of top 50 OHL prospects for this year's draft. Here's what he has written about the player to go with that ranking:
It certainly took Johnson a long time to get going, but once he did, he became an integral part of Windsor's offense. It took him 24 games to score his first OHL goal, but he finished the season with 18. The best thing about Johnson is that when he's not scoring, he's still a very effective player. He's a tremendous skater and his speed causes a lot of problems for the opposition on the forecheck. And when he gains possession in the offensive zone, he's excellent along the boards and wears out opposing defenses. Johnson is also a human torpedo who loves to throw his body around. While his play away from the puck is excellent, his offensive game is definitely inconsistent. He's still learning to channel his energy into production and how to use his speed to be an effective offensive player. The development of his shot and puck carrying ability will be crucial to his high end potential.
It's always a comforting to read that a player is effective when he's not producing. It's easy to get caught up in a prospect's production and use that as a basis as far as what to expect or to explain when he was drafted, especially if it's a forward. It's also comforting to know that a prospect had a 24-game goal drought but still managed to get 18 goals in the remaining 44 games. It suggests that the cold streak was just that: a cold streak. As with Pronman, Otten states that Johnson's a speedy forward and he plays with aggression. He also notes that he's good away from the puck, which is definitely a plus. That's the sort of player that may be exciting to watch. However, Otten starting he's got issues with his consistency and his play with the puck would explain why he's considered to be a third round caliber prospect and not anything higher.
The Scouting Report seems to like Johnson a little than most, as they had him 75th on their top 100. Their short description of the player highlights something very important about his 2011-12 season.
After signing with the Windsor Spitfires as a highly touted free agent last summer, Johnson worked his way up the ranks with Windsor after starting primarily in a 4th line energy role. As he gained more confidence, Johnson took advantage of his new opportunities and became a fixture in the team’s top 2 lines and seeing lots of time on the special teams. Johnson is slight, but he’s a very dynamic skater which is his biggest asset. Role definition at the pro level is a bit of a question mark right now but Johnson still has good upside to justify a Top 3 round pick.
Johnson came right out of high school in Michigan to play in the far stronger OHL and he worked his way up the lineup at Windsor. I'm sure not scoring any goals in his first 24 games hurt his rise; but I'm actually very pleased to read that he got moved up the lineup after the goals started coming. It speaks to the player's development within the OHL as well as his play in general. It also suggests he'll have a prime role all season with Windsor, which can only help things out further provided he continues to justify his minutes. That all said, TSR's continues the consensus that he's worth a third round pick.
Lastly, Shawn Lafonte's profile of Johnson at The Prospect Blog goes into more specific detail as far as his strengths and weaknesses. The other opinions have noted his strengths well, so I'm going to cite what Lafonte wrote as his weaknesses:
Johnson has some room to grow with his positional play. At times he struggles with his ability to be in the right place at the right time, and does not have enough focus in his own zone. He brings a good compete level and always tries hard, just looks to get lost once and a while in his own end. He will get there one day, but at this point his positional play is a work in progress. He has room to grow with his core strength. Once again, the effort is there, but at times he struggles with his strength on the puck, as bigger and stronger defenceman can knock him off of the puck. He engages physically, but needs to continue to work on his core strength.
As one may expect for a player who's 6'0" and 186 pounds, Johnson needs to get stronger. He can be far more effective being fast if he's a little beefier, especially on the forecheck. I'm a little more concerned about his positioning, though. Some of that will come with experience. However, not always being aware of where he needs to be also reflects a little poorly on his sense. Perhaps this is another reason almost everyone who's looked at him believe he's a third rounder as opposed to anything higher. As for the rest of the profile, Lafonte believes Johnson can become a two-way forward at the professional level. He may not score a lot, but he could chip in more than just a handful of goals. For the penultimate pick in the third round, that's not a bad outlook for a prospect. Getting to the professional level at all is an achievement, after all.
A Little Video
Here's an interview Johnson did with TV Coegco Ontario where he talks about his time as a top high school player in Michigan and why he chose Windsor. There are few clips of him playing interspersed with the interview.
There's not a lot of individual videos of Johnson, but some of his goals are found in the many Windsor Spitfire game highlight videos from TV Coegco Ontario. Among the videos, the best one to watch is this 6-3 win by Windsor over Petersborough. Johnson had two goals and two assists in this game, so keep an eye on #12:
In this video, you'll see three of those four points. Johnson enter the zone and pick up an assist off a good bounce, you'll see him you'll see him along the boards and get away to make a good pass for a score, and you'll see him hammer in a one-timer in the slot. Clearly, he has contributed on offense for Windsor.
Lastly, here's Johnson talking with the press after he got drafted by the Devils today. The Devils' PR department put this up on Youtube, so you can get his reaction to being picked by New Jersey.
A Final Opinion & Your Take
I'm not going to judge the Johnson pick in this post by anything but the player. Johnson's the kind of player that I think has been missing in the system for New Jersey. He's fast, he's aggressive, and he's got some offensive tools. I really am heartened by the fact that he worked his way up the Windsor roster. It would be great for all involved if he can maintain his top six role there as he grows as a player. He definitely needs to get stronger and he does need to improve in his positioning as well as his shot. I understand he may not become anything more than a depth scorer; but I would prefer having someone like Johnson develop into a bottom six forward as opposed to a forward who's big but can't do anything much more than being big. I like this selection in the third round.
That's my opinion on Ben Johnson, now I want to know your opinion. What do you think of Ben Johnson as a prospect? How do you think he'll develop? Are you pleased that the Devils drafted him in the third round? What do you expect from Johnson now that he's a Devils prospect? Please leave your answers as well as any additional thoughts on the pick and the player in the comments. Thank you for reading.