Don Fulton tracked down Jack Johnson for an interview, in which Johnson talks about his summer, his recovery from his injury and his thoughts about his rookie season, which included his first NHL goal (seen below).
Here’s the interview…
When defenseman Jack Johnson fractured his right foot in a game late in the season against San Jose it ended his rookie campaign, but not before the 21-year-old had left an impression on fans, his teammates and the league.
The University of Michigan star who came to the Kings in a 2006 trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, Johnson played in 74 games for the Kings this past season, scoring three goals and adding eight assists to go along with 76 penalty minutes.
But it wasn’t so much the stats that told the story of Johnson’s season as much as it was his emerging confidence. Logging plenty of minutes and killing penalties, Johnson became one of the more reliable Kings on defense during a difficult season, and while the organization has to be pleased with his progress, most fans were left waiting for that monster break-out moment, either a big slap shot goal, or a ruthless check.
And there were glimpses.
Along with the three goals there were moments when Johnson displayed his mean streak, and of course he knocked old Kings’ nemesis Ryan Smyth cold with a clean check in Colorado back in March.
Still, Johnson feels he has a lot to prove and of course room for improvement.
Johnson is back home in Michigan enjoying his summer and took a few minutes to talk about his first full season in the NHL
Q&A: Jack Johnson
Question: The most important thing obviously is to ask if you are completely healed from your foot injury. How are you doing?
Johnson: Oh yeah, everything is fine and has been healed up for a couple of months now.
Question: You can put all your weight on it and skate around?
Johnson: Yes, for sure. I’ve been skating now for about a month. I probably could have been skating a couple of months ago, but we just wanted to take some time off of it and not skate until July.
Question: Can you walk me though what happened?
Johnson: It happened in that San Jose game. I got a shot off the inside of my ankle on the penalty kill. I walked it off and just figured it hit me in the ankle, it hurt like hell, but I just walked it off in the tunnel and figured I’d put some pressure on it and get the blood flowing. So I went back out and I took another shot – right in the exact same spot – and that’s what did it.
Question: That’s some bad luck.
Johnson: Yeah, I know (laughs).
Question: What have you been up to so far in this off season?
Johnson: I’ve actually been back in school here taking a few classes, chipping away at the degree. I’ve been hanging around with all my old buddies here, taking in a few hockey camps and I went on a vacation with a buddy a while ago. Other than that, just hanging out with family.
Question: What are you studying?
Johnson: I’m just a general studies major. I don’t care what my degree is as long as I get one (laughs).
Question: If you were a teacher handing out grades, what grade would you give defenseman Jack Johnson for his first full NHL season?
Johnson: Oh boy, that’s a tough question. I’m tougher on myself than other people would be, but I’d probably give myself a B. I had a pretty good season, but there was a lot of stuff I can improve upon.
Question: What were some of the lessons you learned from the NHL game?
Johnson: I just learned a lot throughout the year about being in good position and playing a good defensive game, but I picked up a lot of confidence this year. As the season wore on I was looked up to be out there against other teams’ top lines every night and I quickly learned that I could play against those top lines. I felt very confident about doing it and I felt very comfortable out there. I think it was a very valuable experience for me.
Question: Were there any moments or games in particular where you walked away feeling like you had arrived and really stepped it up out there?
Johnson: There were a few games. A game in Minnesota, a game in Columbus and a couple of games at Staples where my job was to stop a guy like Joe Thornton, or try and stop Rick Nash or Marian Gaborik. Those were really good nights and those three are just world class players – players that I grew up watching and looked up to – and those were some moments when I realized that I could really do this and do it every night.
Question: Your trade from Carolina is likely the number one highlight for Kings fans in the last few years. Was it strange to you to already have a fan base in Los Angeles before you had ever played a shift here?
Johnson: It certainly made it a lot easier knowing that so many people wanted me here. And I really wanted to be here. It made it a lot more fun and exciting coming in. It made me feel really accepted and wanted there.
Question: From a distance, Los Angeles doesn’t seem like a hockey hotbed. You must get the sense that the team has a loyal following.
Johnson: It surprised me at how loyal the fan base really is there. Even though we haven’t been having good years the attendance is still right up there. You definitely get the sense of loyalty and that they want to see a winning team. They have to know that the players want a winner too.
Question: It has been well-documented that Rob Blake is one of your favorite players, but was the “Rob Blake as Jack Johnson’s mentor” a bit overplayed, or did he really play a large role for you last season?
Johnson: He really was my mentor, almost like a second dad – I mean, I was living with him for half the season. I was pretty much picking his brain all season. Every time I had a question I would ask him. There were times I was probably making him crazy with all of the questions I was asking, but he was really awesome. He made me feel comfortable in that atmosphere. I mean, it wasn’t easy going in there, being so young and just out of college – only halfway through college – and stepping into that atmosphere with pros and Hall of Famers. He definitely helped me a lot.
Question: That being said, you know next season begins with a home-and-home against the Sharks. I’m picturing Blake head-manning the puck into the offensive zone: Will there be any hesitation on your part to lay him out if given the chance?
Johnson: (Laughs). I’m just going to play hockey and even if I tried to hit him I’m not sure it would do anything (laughs). I’m just going to go out there and play hockey. It is going to be weird to see him on the other side, but it will still be good to see him. It would be just as weird to play Philadelphia if they still had Modry. He was just as much help to me as Rob was. I can’t thank him enough. It will be strange to see him too.
Question: It seemed at times last season like you might have been holding back a little, playing things conservatively, that at any moment we were going to see some end-to-end rushes or bone-jarring clips like we have seen on YouTube that made you semi famous. Were you in fact holding back a bit last year?
Johnson: I was just kind of feeling things out, and yeah, there were times where I felt like I was holding back and hesitating a little bit. I think it is all about getting some confidence a getting a feeling for the game. It is a lot harder coming in to this league as a defenseman than it is for a forward. The mistakes you make as a defenseman are magnified than when you make them as a forward. That is what everyone told me coming in, to take it slow. A lot of guys don’t hit their prime until they are 26 or 27, but I plan on speeding that up a bit. I’m looking forward to being more myself next year.
Question: The Kings obviously have a plan to build a strong team from the back-up, with you, Hickey, Doughty, Teubert to form the core, and will need someone to step up back there as the leader. Are you already in a position to be that leader?
Johnson: I believe so. I don’t think anything needs to change though for me to be a leader, just go out and play. I think there are enough leaders on the team, and with Anze, Dustin and O’Sullivan up front and myself on defense, I think there are enough leaders that we will be fine.
Question: How did you manage to stay motivated last season during this phase of the Kings’ rebuilding process?
Johnson: It’s really not hard for me to come to the rink every day to play hockey. I’m 21-years-old, I’m playing in the National Hockey League and living in Los Angeles. It’s pretty easy for me to come and play every day because I am finally doing what I love for a living and I hope it never ends.
Question: I realize it is still very early, but have you heard from Terry Murray yet?
Johnson: No, not yet. I don’t know a whole lot about him yet. When I was a young kid I did watch when the Red Wings and Flyers played in the Finals and he was the coach. He obviously has proven himself and has experience and I’m looking forward to the chance to play for him.
Question: Between your season and the NHL and your time at Michigan, what has been your all-time favorite hit that you have dished-out?
Johnson: Um, favorite hit? I actually had a bit at Ohio State that was probably my favorite hit. I caught a kid cutting across the blue line that was similar to the Scott Stevens/Paul Kariya hit. It was an intense game and it was the weekend of the Michigan-Ohio State football weekend. It really sparked the team and we ended up winning the game.
Question: What’s better: A monster hit or scoring a goal?
Johnson: It depends on the timing in the game. Each has its great feeling depending on the moment.
Question: What has been your most embarrassing moment on the ice? There must be one, right?
Johnson: At Michigan we were at practice doing some D-to-D passing, and there were only two of us out there and I fell down pretty hard. The whole family was there so it was pretty embarrassing.
Question: I know it is still early, but what’s your call on the worst NHL hockey city?
Johnson: (Laughs). Oh, I’d have to say the Islanders’ rink and the area just around there was the worst (laughs).
Question: Okay, how about the best?
Johnson: I think the best place was New York City, Madison Square Garden.
Question: Nice, so on the same road trip you experienced both the best and the worst?
Johnson: Yep, sure did (laughs).