You have (at least) one thing in common with a top NHL prospect.
Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick Kent Johnson, a shifty forward currently playing his sophomore season at NCAA D1’s University of Michigan, is a loyal reader of our newsletter.
He is also one of the most unique prospects I’ve watched. Not just because of his dazzling skillset, but also because of how he applies it when Michigan is on the man advantage.
As far as I know, Johnson might be the only skater in college hockey who can effectively play all five positions on the 1-3-1 power play.
Most players default to a certain spot on the 1-3-1.
Some are terrific from their strong-side flank but struggle on their one-timer side (think Mitch Marner).
Others have the right physical package to play in the bumper, but lack the finesse to find small-area plays in traffic (think Josh Anderson).
Very few players can play the goal line like James Van Riemsdyk.
Most point men are Ds who are stapled to the blue line.
At various moments, Johnson creates chances from all five positions. Not only does this unique ability help him produce at his current level, but it will also allow him to walk onto PP2 or even PP1 for CBJ once he is ready to turn pro.
Left Flank (Strong Side)
On Michigan’s first unit, Johnson (yellow #13) can most often be found at the left flank.
He rolls up high in the zone to accept a pass from #22 Owen Power, then works downhill as Auston Matthews or Johnny Gaudreau would from the same position.
On his first attempt, he gets inside the dot lane before releasing his shot, as to improve his shooting angle. Then he sprints below the goal line to aid the puck retrieval.
On his second attempt, he again skates onto the dot lane and shows shot with his body language, but snaps a cross-ice feed to the one-timer threat at the last moment.
Right Flank (One-Timer Side)
Johnson is known more for his crafty stickhandling than for his shot. Last season Johnson often plays on the right flank, and he is unhappy with his shooting from that spot. In early 2021 he reaches out to me for a tip to improve his one-timer.
The issue, as far as I can see, is how he comes across the puck rather than down and through it. Instead of moving through the shot and toward the net, Johnson often swings left to right, falling off after contact. This causes him to apply slice on the puck (to borrow a golf term), affecting both power and accuracy.
We have a 30-minute Zoom call, during which I show him a few clips of Nikita Kucherov shooting from the right flank.
Weeks later Johnson sends me a practice clip. His motion already looks different.
See for yourself below (blue 2020-21, white 2021-22):
Johnson’s one-timer motion looks more contained, with his front foot pointed toward the target and his weight moving forward rather than over-rotating toward the right corner.
A few times a season, Johnson will do something in a game that catches my attention. The clip below leads to a conversation, that leads to this article.
In the third period of a losing effort against Wisconsin, Johnson vacates the left flank, sneaks behind the net and emerges on the opposite side. He calls for the puck, pulls it between his feet, then roofs it past a surprised goalie.
I message him as soon as I see the clip.
“Is this something you practiced or did it just sort of happen?”
He replies minutes later.
“Worked on it lots.”
“Did you watch JVR? In Toronto he was the best at this?”
“Of course. I’ve probably seen every goal scored between the legs like this.”
Johnson’s skillset allows him to be a highly effective goal line player, but his commitment to deliberate practice and game transfer will help him to be an effective pro in any circumstance.
All things considered, the bumper might be the most challenging position in a 1-3-1.
Johnson’s lanky (6’1”, 186lb) frame doesn’t lend itself to playing a netfront role, and he seldom seems to touch the puck when playing in the middle of the PK box. He has yet to master the subtle positioning adjustments that allow a player such as Brayden Point or Patrice Bergeron to consistently create shooting opportunities as the bumper.
However, by rotating away from the left flank, landing at the goal line and then moving into the bumper, Johnson creates space for teammate Thomas Bordeleau (yellow #34), then helps his team win a retrieval race by starting from a central position.
The bumper isn’t Johnson’s ideal position (yet), but moving into that spot occasionally create confusion among the PKers and gives Michigan’s other talented underclassmen a chance to take charge.
Michigan’s PP1 is stacked with top NHL prospects. When 2021 first-overall pick Power, the lone defenseman, calls an audible off the entry, Johnson switches with #22 and mans the point.
On his first touch, Johnson relieves pressure with a gutsy saucer pass to a flank player, allowing the five-man unit to set up, only with Power in the bumper and Johnson up top.
Johnson then uses a spin-o-rama to shield a pass to Brendan Brisson at the right flank. Eventually he gets the puck back, fakes a shot, then slide a pass to Brisson for a one-timer goal.
Be like Kent and read Hockey Tactics 2021
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