Sept. 29, 2006
By Elliot Olshansky
Apparently, for the Carolina Hurricanes, "never" was better than "late."
After several unsuccessful attempts to sign Michigan defenseman Jack Johnson,
"I think it's really well known that he has a lot of potential," Kings President and General Manager Dean Lombardi said, "and he potentially fills a position that's hard to find. This is one of those deals where these young players aren't often available at this young age, so we had to be fairly aggressive."
The Hurricanes were certainly "fairly aggressive" with Johnson since drafting him just over a year ago, making repeated attempts to sign the 6'1", 210-pound Indianapolis native, including attempts before, during and after his freshman season in Ann Arbor, which saw him record 32 points (10g, 22a) in 38 games for the Wolverines.
The team's most recent attempt to sign Johnson came earlier this month, after the Hurricanes found out that defenseman Frantisek Kaberle will miss most or all of the season following shoulder surgery, leaving the Hurricanes in need of a defenseman. When Johnson rebuffed the Hurricanes' offer, Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford made it known that the team would listen to trade offers. That worked well for the Kings, who were interested in Johnson all along.
"We had talked in the summer," Lombardi said, "and it wasn't there. We talked again before the season, it wasn't quite there, and then it moves along, where you think it's died, and it comes back again. It's evolved over time, but it's safe to say that if a player with his potential is available, that I think anybody has to investigate it."
When it comes to Johnson's potential, Lombardi isn't naming names, but is clearly a big believer in his new acquisition.
"Within his peer group," Lombardi said, "I think he's one of the top prospects for a defenseman. To say that he's going to be a Scott Niedermayer or anything like that, I don't think is fair, and I don't think makes sense for anybody to say. The one thing that we can say about him right now is that he's a competitor. I think this kid is going to be every bit as good as he's capable of being. He comes to play and loves to play."
Not only does Johnson love to play, but he loves to play for
"I talked to him after the trade," Lombardi said, "and I just asked him: is that his wish, to stay in school? He said yes, and I have no problem with that, and I actually think that we were prepared to be patient when we made this deal. I think, in the long run, it will be good for him to spend another year there, and then, certainly, evaluate it in March when his season's over. Ron Hextall called [
Berenson was cautiously optimistic about how patient the Kings will be.
Berenson was especially glad for the Kings' assurances that they wouldn't try to sign Johnson until after
"That's the first time we've ever had anything like that happen," Berenson said of the mid-season offer from
One indication of how Johnson and Berenson might be treated by
While the trade may have surprised Johnson, he can now concentrate on doing what he does want to do: play at
"I had a talk with Jack," Berenson said, "and I know