The Minnesota Wild are scoring just barely over three goals a game (3.03) and 19th in the NHL in goals per 60 minutes. Despite needing points and wins, they have gotten mundane performances from their offensive stalwarts. Minnesota’s defense isn’t holding up its end of the bargain, but the Wild could still use more offensive production.
Fortunately for the Wild, the AHL's leader in points per game could be on the trade block.
There’s a storm brewing in central Ohio right now. The Columbus Blue Jackets' 5th overall pick in the 2021 draft is playing on their AHL squad in Cleveland. Kent Johnson has three points in eight NHL games this year but has spent much of his time in the AHL. The Jackets made Johnson a healthy scratch for two before sending him down.
The former Michigan star is not a fringe player. The 21-year-old undoubtedly has the skills to stick in the NHL, and it’s unclear why Columbus is keeping him in the AHL. Johnson recently changed his representation due to the situation. The youngster signed with Pat Brisson, the agent who represented other former Columbus stars like Seth Jones and Piere Luc-Dubois.
I’d imagine Johnson feels disrespected by the demotion. Johnson put up 40 points in 79 games as a 20-year-old rookie last year. That included 16 goals on a putrid Blue Jackets team (59 points, second least in the NHL). The Canadian was fifth on the team in points, fourth in GF%, and fifth in shots. He did all of this as a rookie while only playing 14 minutes a night. The former top pick probably expected to play a significant role on the Jackets this season, but that hasn’t been the case.
It’s not all the center's fault. The Columbus organization is in a bit of a tumultuous state. They had to fire head coach Mike Babcock before he coached in a game and rushed to hire a replacement before the season started. Coaching changes can be difficult for young players. Perhaps the new coach, Pascal Vincent, does not see Johnson in the same way that his past coaches did.
Regardless of why the 6’1” center is in the AHL, Johnson is proving he should be on NHL ice. He’s on pace for 114 points in the AHL, with four goals and ten assists in eight games.
Johnson has been an offensive force ever since Columbus drafted him. He was over a point-per-game player in his two seasons at Michigan. Johnson’s creativity and skills translated to the NHL in his first year. His stick handling and skating are his two signature strengths.
Johnson pulled off this highly skilled move in a shootout last year:
The center also pulled off one of the signature goals of the NHL season when he did ‘The Michigan’ against the New York Islanders:
Johnson’s size, speed, and skill would greatly boost the Wild offense.
Kirby Dach was the most recent former top-five pick to be moved before he finished his rookie contract. During his time with the Chicago Blackhawks, Dach faced injuries, but the big center put up decent numbers. It's not quite what you would hope from a third-overall pick. However, it was enough for the Montreal Canadians to send a mid-first and mid-second-round pick to Chicago for his services.
Dach’s value was a bit higher than Johnson’s at the time of the trade. The Blackhawks traded Dach to shake up the roster and give him a change of scenery. Columbus probably would have the same intent in a Johnson trade.
The Blue Jackets will probably have a reasonable asking price for Johnson. The Wild could craft something up of even value that’s not just picks, but they would need to send a player back to Columbus off the NHL roster to make it work. Johnson makes $950,000 on his NHL contract, and the Wild can only fit $806,000. Therefore, a player would have to go back to the Blue Jackets to make the cap work.
A potential trade package may look like:
To MIN: Kent Johnson
To CBJ: Connor Dewar, Vladislav Firstov, 1st or 2nd round pick
Dewar is there for the roster spot and Firstov is a good prospect who may be more inclined to play for a team that has room for him in Columbus. The Wild would have to include the pick to make the trade even. I’d assume Columbus would want a chance to make up for their selection of Johnson.
Losing Dewar would hurt. But Freddy Gaudreau could take that spot on the fourth line while Johnson slots into the 2C role with Boldy and Marcus Johansson. If Johnson can put up 40 points as a rookie on Columbus, I can’t imagine what kind of damage he’d do with Boldy on his wing.
If the price to acquire the young center is not too great, the Wild should swing a deal to acquire Johnson’s services. Johnson could be a star player who could help turn Minnesota’s season around.
All stats and data via Evolving Hockey, HockeyDb, CapFriendly, and Elite Prospects unless otherwise noted.
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