Stephen Johns brings experience to Blackhawks’ prospect camp
BY SETH GRUEN Staff Reporter July 14, 2014 8:46PM
ST PAUL, MN - MARCH 29: Nic Dowd #26 of the St. Cloud State Huskies strips the puck from Stephen Johns #28 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as Jarrod Rabey #2 of the St. Cloud State Huskies looks on during the second period of the West Regional game of the 2014 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship on March 29, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. The St. Cloud State Huskies defeats the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Updated: July 15, 2014 2:20AM
Defenseman Stephen Johns got a chuckle out of being reminded that this marks the fifth time he’s attended the Blackhawks’ prospect camp.
The 60th overall pick in the 2010 NHL draft spent four college seasons at Notre Dame resisting the lure of the pro game, being confident that the ice time would help his game improve.
It worked for Johns, possibly making this his last experience at the summer showcase of the organization’s future talent.
He has rounded into a physical defenseman who might make the Hawks’ roster out of training camp.
“Going to be nerve-racking to see where I land this fall, but I’m going to give it everything I have,” Johns said. “Hopefully, everything works out for the best. If not, I’m just going to have to keep working and try to progress as much as possible.”
The Hawks possibly could move defensemen Johnny Oduya, Nick Leddy or Michal Rozsival to clear cap space, so the organization will look to its crop of young defensemen.
Johns, 22, has the defensive skills it takes to play for coach Joel Quenneville. At 6-3, 215 pounds, he loves to hit — so much so that it became a problem for him during his freshman season at Notre Dame.
He would hit anything that moved, which earned him 98 penalty minutes in 44 games. Johns settled down during his senior season, when he scored eight goals and spent 69 minutes in the box.
“Trying to run around and kill anyone, I got myself in a lot of problems,” he said.
“[The coaches] told me to rein it back, let the play and hits come to me and not go looking for it. I really progressed in that area this year, and in Rockford [where he played eight games last season] even more.”
The limited time he played for the IceHogs, the Hawks’ American Hockey League affiliate, gave Johns exposure to the speed and, more important, the pressure of playing at the professional level.
He saw some ice time on the special teams in Rockford and realized those situations are so much more magnified.
“I was a little nervous at first, but I kind of started to settled in,” Johns said of playing on the IceHogs’ special teams. “It just comes with experience.”
Johns said numerous times that the last year was huge in his development and that he saw improvement on both ends of the ice.
While almost every prospect in the last two days has noted the increased speed of the game, even at this week’s camp, Johns has indicated the difference is as much mental as it is physical.
The mental aspect is perhaps where he has improved the most.
While at Rockford, Johns realized that on defense he has to think two or three passes ahead to ensure he is in position. It might be getting a little old, but prospect camp at Johnny’s IceHouse West will provide him with more exposure to that.
“It’s a great experience coming here every summer,” Johns said. “Getting a little competitive in the summer isn’t a bad thing. Everyone’s itching to get back and start playing in the fall.”
NOTE: The Hawks hired former Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, 50, as an assistant coach. Dineen and Joel Quenneville were teammates with the Hartford Whalers from 1984 to 1990.