While he may not be an elite defenseman, Erik Johnson proved this year that he is indeed skilled enough to be a top-pairing defenseman on an NHL club. His game took a huge leap forward, and it's hard to believe the new coaching regime wasn't a big part of that. In what is considered now as a predictive conversation, Patrick Roy told the young blueliner, "We need you to be Erik Johnson." Play your game, Roy said. And play his game EJ did.
Advanced Stats 5 v. 5
Steve: EJ was pretty great in the regular season. Not convinced he's a 1D on 30 teams but he is on ours. Career high in assists (30) too.
c6hor8: People underestimate Johnson. He was absolutely incredible all season long and was a huge reason for the Avs success and Varly's success.
Sandie: The one player I think Roy had a most significant impact on was EJ.
Mike: Skates so smooth, 6th on the team in pts, tried to amputate legs on blockers all year. Don't think we've seen his ceiling yet. 2nd in blocks, 6th in hits.
Cheryl: EJ impressed me. I knew he could do better than he had been doing since the trade, but I didn't realize how solid he'd become in all facets of the game. There are clearly days when he's on it more than others, but I think time, experience, and age will help level that out. He seems to get into his head too much for his own good, putting undue pressure on himself. When he just does his thing, he's fantastic.
Advanced Stats 5 v. 5
Steve: I mean he was all right considering he was saddled with Jan hejda and his no hands, but was just not good enough.
c6hor8: He got better but he was not the Johnson we needed.
mfured20: I know that he was on the ice with a very injured Jan Hejda, but he looked constantly jumpy, like he did when he was trying to do everything himself. He lost that composure that had carried him thru all season, and it was to everyone's detriment.
Mike: Got the tough minutes and played 4 more a game than anybody else. Roy leaned on him to the tune of nearly 33 shifts a game but he tied for worst in the giveaway dept. Then again, he was 2nd w/ 6 takeaways.
Andi: I think that during the regular season, Roy finally got EJ to believe that he didn't have to do everything by himself. He could rely on his teammates and concentrate on just playing his game. When the playoffs started with an injured Hedja, that belief started to slip. When Barrie got injured, it was gone, and EJ seemed to revert back into "DO ALL THE THINGS!" mode. As usual, once he spread his attentions instead of focusing on what he could control, everything crashed and burned. EJ is a very talented player, but he's a bit fragile mentally it seems. He was put in a very bad situation due to the injuries and imploded under the pressure. He wants so badly to be "that guy" that he ends up preventing himself from becoming it. He needs on-ice help to save him from himself, and he didn't get it this post-season. It would be easy to lay the blame for the series at his feet, but our lack of defensive depth is not his fault. I just hope he learns from this mess and is surrounded by better, healthier players next year.
Cheryl: When Barrie went down, Johnson felt all of the pressure was on him to rise up and be "the man." He started trying too hard, and when EJ does that, his play suffers. He tries to do too much, and it ends up in a turnover. Another year under his belt, and that won't happen.
The general consensus was that Johnson was going to rise above and have a bit of a breakout year. Spot on. Some thought he'd top the blueliners in offensive output, while others (surprisingly) put Barrie in that category. despite not giving him a lot of ink otherwise.
Andi: I still believe Johnson has the ability to carry a blueline, but until "it's in there somewhere" turns into "see, I told you so!", we're sunk.
Cole: As much talent as Johnson has, we can’t forget that the Avs number one defenseman score 4 points. FOUR POINTS in 31 games last season. That is an absolute fucking travesty and if Johnson can’t turn it around in a really big way this season, then frankly the Avalanche need to start looking elsewhere.
Earl: Johnson doesn't need a perennial all-star as a partner to be good (it would be nice tho'), he just needs someone he can trust.
Steve: Unless Johnson takes that huge step we've been waiting for since The Trade (or Elliott becomes an NHL defenseman), our top pairing consists of a #2 and a #2/3 who's aging (Hejda)