Former Trail Smoke Eater assistant captain Kent Johnson continues to pile up accolades in NCAA hockey.
The 18-year-old University of Michigan freshman earned the Big Ten Conference First Star of the Week honours after putting up five points in a 9-0 win over Michigan State.
Johnson, the CJHL Top Forward last year, scored once and added four assists in the match to give him three goals and 15 points in 12 games for the Wolverines. The Port Moody native leads all scorers in the Big Ten, and is 10th overall in NCAA scoring.
In November, Johnson earned third star of the week for a four-assist performance against Arizona State.
“I feel like I’m more comfortable at the college level,” Johnson said during a Zoom meeting with media. “I’m making more plays. I feel like I have more puck possession. I feel like I’ve been able to play my game more lately here … more like I played in the BCHL.”
Johnson, the 2020 BCHL MVP and leading scorer, tallied 101 points for the Smoke Eaters last season playing centre, 30 more than runner up Cristophe Tellier of the Surrey Eagles.
At Michigan, coach Mel Pearson has slotted Johnson on the wing with Matthew Beniers centering him and senior Jack Becker, the team captain. Beniers won a gold-medal with the U.S. at the World Juniors and is a potential top ranked draft-pick as well.
“I think at first I had to find a way to get the puck a bit more because a lot usually runs through the centre,” said Johnson. “For me, it’s about getting off the wall early when I do have the puck.
“I’m not the fastest guy yet at this level, so I can’t bust down the wall with speed. I have to get off the wall so I can use my shiftiness and IQ. Whenever I get the puck, I try to take a step to the middle and I’m getting more comfortable with that. I think I’ll get more comfortable the more games I play on the wing.
“I’d love to probably play centre again at some point, but it’s really valuable to be able to play both and we’ve got great centremen here.”
Johnson is fearless when it comes to creativity and Smoke Eaters fans watched him score a couple ‘Michigan’ goals last season, where he lifts the puck lacrosse-style from behind the net and deposits it in the top corner.
His slick stickhandling skills has already created some noise in the U.S. as ESPN highlighted one of Johnson’s goals as No. 2 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Week. Johnson made a shifty move past a defender, and finished off the rush with a wicked top-shelf backhand over the Minnesota goaltender.
“I don’t think about it,” said Johnson. “I try to let my training do the work. If I feel like I need to do something between legs to make the best play I’ll do it.”
Johnson is eligible for the 2021 draft, and currently ranked in the Top 10 depending on whose list you look at. Johnson’s teammates Benier and six-foot-six defenceman Owen Power also earned an A rating from Central Scouting’s preliminary rankings and are even ranked higher than Johnson by many NHL draft pundits.
For now, Johnson is focused on his play with the 6-6 Michigan Wolverines, who have been inconsistent despite being ranked No. 9 overall
“Whether I get picked first overall or 200th overall, I’m not going to the NHL yet,” said Johnson. “There’s so much I need to get better before I can play in that league. I can’t focus on the draft.”