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Once More Unto The Breach – The Committed Indian's Season Preview: Stephen Johns

Today’s question comes from ExOnMS.

How long until we see Stephen John’s in the lineup, and what should we expect from him straight away?

Johns has somewhat gotten lost in all the Teuvo hysteria, but we shouldn’t think the Hawks are any less excited about the Golden Domer. The Hawks tried to pry Johns out of South Bend for at least the past two years, disappointed when Johns chose to finish out his entire college career. But they have him now, and he’s clearly the best prospect the Hawks have on the blue line.

While I think Teuvo has a decent, but not great, chance to start the year in Chicago, Johns is less likely to do so. One reason is simply a numbers game. The Hawks basically already have a top seven in Chicago on defense, and you would want Johns playing no matter where he is. It will do him no good to sit in the pressbox. With Keith, Seabrook, Oduya, Hjalmarsson, Leddy, Rozsival, and Rundblad all taking up room in Chicago, there’s not a lot of playing time to go around. Of course, a trade to get under the cap amongst this unit would change things a bit.

Second, Johns still has some rough edges to smooth out. He can be something of a guided missile, and though the Hawks have missed a dominating physical presence on their blue line since Seabrook turned into Blutarsky, Johns still has to gauge when is a good time to go for fatalities in the neutral zone and when it isn’t. He also will get some teammates in a lot of trouble covering for his acts, as opponents at times are not going to take to kindly to his forays into physicality. Expect a misconduct or two as he starts out in the NHL, whenever that may be.

Third, it’s hard to know what exactly Johns is going to be yet. As we know, Quenneville likes his pairs to have clearly defined roles. One puck-mover, the other is support or more stable/conservative. Seabrook backs up Keith, Hammer backs up Oduya, Rozie backs up Leddy. Well, the thing is Johns is kind of a hybrid. He has the size and snarl to be a real atom-smasher in his own crease and behind his net. But he is most certainly not without hands. He had 20 points in 40 games last year in the NCAA, and has pretty keen passing skills. He has a huge shot as well, moves very well for someone with his size, so who would he be best paired with? A steadier hand who can back up his sometimes reckless decisions to hit or charge forward on the rush? Or a puck-mover who keeps him pinned back in support and we’ll worry about his offense later in his career? I don’t know the answer to this one, and I’m not sure the Hawks do either.

Johns might have to spend the whole year in Rockford, simply because of the numbers crunch. Unless a move is made or injuries hit, it’s just going to be very hard to crack the lineup. Stan gave up a 2nd round pick for Rundblad, so you know he’s going to get every chance to prove he’s worth it.¬†Johns is right-handed, and I doubt the Hawks would ask him to play his offside in his first professional season. So if Rozsival is moved there’s a spot, or if Oduya is and Hammer is flipped or something of the ilk.

Johns could simply dominate at the AHL level and make the choice for the Hawks, and we know that Q has shown a propensity to give big d-men a look. Remember Dylan Olsen. I think Johns has a chance to be up after the turn of the calendar, and I do think he’s going to be a very effective NHL player. He very well may be Seabrook’s replacement down the road, but it’s going to be a little while before we see if that’s true.

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