...And Sometimes Other Johnsons Don't Quite Measure Up

 

By now, you've probably had a chance to read Andi's excellent look at Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson and the way the numbers at his age stack up to those of some Norris-level defensemen. Andi points out that Johnson is still very young and that his numbers compare favorably to the numbers of the last seven Norris winners at his age (23). And clearly, there shouldn't be any expectations for EJ to be Norris caliber right now. Those seven Norris winners Andi mentioned? Here's the season they won their first Norris: Lidstrom, 10th. Chara, 11th. Niedermayer, 12th. Keith, 5th. MacInnis, 15th. Blake, 9th.

But, I would also like to humbly point out that moderate success at a young age doesn't automatically mean one needs to start making room on the mantle for hardware. First, let's look at Andi's chart again without all that girly formatting because I don't want you people to start expecting frills like that (also, because I'm lazy)

 

 Player  Exp.  GP  G  A  Pts  PPG  +/-  PIM  S%  TOI
 Nicklas Lidstrom  2   164   18   83   101   0.616   43   50   5.56%   N/A
 Duncan Keith  1   81   9   12   21   0.260   -11   79   6.70%   23:26 
 Zdeno Chara  3   149   4   16   20   0.134   -34   190   3.54%   20:52 
 Scott Niedermayer  4   292   33   106   139   0.476   67   155   6.69%   N/A
 Chris Pronger  4   281   28   76   104   0.370   -18   420   5.06%   N/A
 Al MacInnis  5   211   37   146   183   0.867   45   202   5.53%   N/A
 Rob Blake  3   136   19   47   66   0.485   -2   231   6.69%   N/A
  Average of Norris Winners  3   188   21   69   91   0.458   -16   190   5.67%   -
 Erik Johnson  3   225   23   78   101   0.449   -21   163   5.08%   20:49 
 Shea Weber  3   161   25   45   70   0.435   15   151   7.14%   18:38 
 Drew Doughty (Age 21)  3   239   33   93   126   0.527   16   178   8.11%   0:49 

 

My first thought when reading that was "damn, Johnson really measures up well to some big names". My second thought was "hmmm, but I wonder if I could find players with similar numbers at age 22 that didn't quite turn into Norris winners". And I could.

 

 Player  Exp.    GP    G    A    Pts    PPG    +/-    PIM    S%    TOI  
 Martin Skoula  3   244   21   51   72   0.295   10   100   7.60%   20:24 
 Derek Morris  4   282   30   99   129   0.457   -8   297   4.96%   23:48 
 Marc-Edouard Vlasic  3   245   11   65   76   0.310   16   84   4.55%   22:34 
 Andrej Meszaros  3   246   26   84   110   0.447   24   213   5.86%   20:18 
 Tomas Kaberle  3   221   17   90   107   0.484   34   60   6.83%   21:26 
 Oleg Tverdovsky  3   200   20   77   97   0.485   -18   85   6.92% 
 Kyle McLaren  5   321   29   70   99   0.308   17   298   6.02% 

 

There some good names on the list (and a couple who could probably help the Avalanche out NOW), but no Norris Trophies. In fact, those 7 players have combined for 5 All-Star appearances - 4 by Kaberle and 1 by Tverdovsky. Not bad. Not elite either.

There's another thing that troubles me about Andi's list of Norris winners. When Nick Lidstrom was 23, he had guys like Paul Coffey, Steve Chiasson and Vladimir Konstantinov on the blueline with him. Chris Pronger at 23 had Al MacInnis and Steve Duchesne. Blake had Coffey too, along with veteran Charlie Huddy. Scott Niedermayer had Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko. Al MacInnis had Gary Suter and Brian Engblom's mullet. The point is, a lot of these guys were playing with Norris winners (Coffey, MacInnis), Norris candidates (Stevens), steady veterans (Chiasson, Huddy and Daneyko) and guys who could move the puck (Coffey, Duchesne, Suter). In other words, most of them had help. The Avalanche this year has a good group of blueliners, but it would be tough to say that EJ has help of the same pedigree that many of the others had.

We don't know today what kind of career Erik Johnson is going to have. He isn't playing like a Norris candidate right now, but no one should expect him to. He clearly has the talent to get to that level someday, but that "someday" would realistically be years away. Or, it could never happen. He could be another Derek Morris; a good player who is approaching his 1,000th NHL game but who, after a lot of early promise, had just 1 40-point season in the NHL (ironically, for the Avs). Andi asked us to have patience, as we are still looking at the really early stages of his career trajectory. I agree 100%. I'd add, though, that we may just wake up some day and find out that our Johnson didn't quite measure up like we thought it would.

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