Earlier today, Beachie was going to run a Checking Out Johnson piece. This was going to be the companion piece to see how our Johnson has measured up. Beachie's story got delayed (something about a penguin), but I was too far into this one to pull out. And, while it was a lot of fun to write those previous sentences, I'm going to try to lay off the penis jokes for the rest of this article and I won't even mention that the Avs #6 looks a lot like, well, this. So, now that the childish introduction is out of the way, let's take a look at some numbers.
As I write this (before last night's game), Erik Johnson has 7 games under his belt with the Avalanche. That's a ridiculously small sample size for any sort of statistical analysis, but this isn't exactly a doctoral thesis. Still, take these numbers with a grain of salt.
In seven games with the Avs, Johnson is averaging 25:52 of ice time. That's 3:38 more than Colorado's next most-active defenseman, John Michael-Liles (22:14). It's also a sizeable increase from the 22:07 he was averaging in St Louis this year. The Blues used their defensemen differently, with 4 players averaging between 21:00 and 22:14 of ice time per game at the time of the trade (Shattenkirk has averaged 21:25 since the trade). The Avs have just two guys over 20 minutes of ice time, Johnson and Liles. Over his entire St Louis career, Johnson averaged 19:51 of ice time, so it will be interesting to see if Johnson continues to be leaned on so heavily in Colorado. In St Louis, he shared the workload with guys like Eric Brewer, Barret Jackman and Alex Pietrangelo. In Colorado, he is the top dog.
Really, the Avalanche haven't had a minutes eater like that in some time. Kyle Quincey averaged 23:36 of ice time last year and Brett Clark averaged 23:40 in 2006-2007 and Rob Blake averaged 24:22 back in 2005-2006. Those are the only 3 23+ TOI seasons by an Avalanche blueliner since the lockout. The inclusion of Blake on the list makes a lot of sense. Both are (were) big, right-handed defensemen used in just about every situation for the Avs - powerplay, shorthanded, against the top lines, offensive faceoffs, defensive faceoffs, the whole 9 yards. The Avalanche really haven't had a guy like that since Blake left. Kyle Quincey last year is probably the closest we've seen, but his play slipped substantially as the season wore on.
Blake is also the last Avs' right-handed defensemen to get 10 goals in a season. Actually, he and Patrice Brisebois share the honors, a feat they accomplished 5 years ago. Jeff Finger - another #6 - had 8 a couple of years back, but no other righties have hit double-digits. Johnson had 10 with St Louis last year and has 7 this year with St Louis and Colorado. He may not get to 10 this year, but he's averaging 3 shots per game in Denver, a shot-per-game increase over his career average to date. At his current career 5% shooting rate, that's good for about 12 goals a season.
Finally, Avalanche fans who are used to seeing hard-hitting defensemen turn into puppy dogs in Colorado (aka the Ossi Vaananen Syndrome) will be pleased to know that Johnson is averaging 1.4 hits per game in Denver, right on par with the 1.2 he average with the Blues this year. Let's hope that trend continues.
In short (uh, sorry), the bottom line would seem to be that the Avalanche have a guy they've been missing for years: a #1 guy that they can use in all critical situations. I don't think that's really a new revelation. What's interesting to me, though, is that this is kind of a new situation for Johnson. He wasn't the #1 guy in St Louis, instead he was protected a bit as St Louis other guys - Jackman, Brewer, Salvador, etc - who could help shoulder the load. Certainly, the Avalanche have a guy on defense that they can lean on, and how that impacts the rest of the team will be very interesting to watch. Equally interesting, though - and probably more important - is how Johnson responds to the added responsibility. So far, things are looking pretty good in that department. Can he keep it up?