Michigan's Johnson Sees Draft Rights Traded

Sept. 29, 2006

By Elliot Olshansky



Elliot is CSTV.com's hockey editor and runs his Rink Rat hockey blog on CSTV.com.
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Apparently, for the Carolina Hurricanes, "never" was better than "late."


After several unsuccessful attempts to sign Michigan defenseman Jack Johnson, Carolina's first-round pick (third overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, the Hurricanes traded Johnson's draft rights on Friday to the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings sent center Eric Belanger and defenseman Tim Gleason to the Hurricanes in exchange for veteran blueliner Oleg Tverdovsky and the rights to 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 Michigan, something he made clear to Lombardi in a phone conversation after the deal was completed.


"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 [Michigan head coach] Red Berenson right away, and told him that if that's what [Jack] wants to do, we're behind him. Don't worry, he's not going anywhere, and we'll review it in March."


Berenson was cautiously optimistic about how patient the Kings will be.


"Carolina, they have a sense of urgency," Berenson said, "and they want players right now, and they're getting them, and they're forgoing a future prospect, and hopefully, L.A. is going to be a little more patient. L.A. knows what they're getting as player, but they also know that Jack wants to stay in school this year. I can't tell you that it's better for Jack or worse for Jack, but the good thing is, at least they'll let him be a kid, and let him be a student, and let him be a college player."


Berenson was especially glad for the Kings' assurances that they wouldn't try to sign Johnson until after Michigan's season ends, and that there would be no mid-season offers like the one Johnson received after he returned from the 2006 World Junior Championship.


"That's the first time we've ever had anything like that happen," Berenson said of the mid-season offer from Carolina. "That was disappointing. We're not a pro team. We don't trade players or send them down or bring them up in the middle of the season, but obviously, we weren't treated that way."


One indication of how Johnson and Berenson might be treated by L.A. resides on the opposite side of the country. Johnson's fellow Kings prospect, Brian Boyle, entering his senior season at Boston College, wouldn't say that Johnson had entered a better situation with the Kings than he had with Carolina, but did expect the Kings to be as understanding with Johnson's desire to stay in school as they have been with his own.


"In L.A., he'll be respected," Boyle said, "and his decisions will get respect, because they aren't going to force people to do things they don't want to do.  As Mr. Lombardi told me, pro hockey's a long hard season, and if you're doing something that you don't want to do, you're not going to last."


While the trade may have surprised Johnson, he can now concentrate on doing what he does want to do: play at Michigan this season.


"I had a talk with Jack," Berenson said, "and I know L.A. has talked to him, and I think there's a little bit of shock that he was actually traded, but now, he can get back to what he's here for, and hopefully, this will be good for him."


Johnson and Michigan begin the 2006-07 season on October 13, when the Wolverines host Alabama-Huntsville.





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