It's Not Time for Blue Jackets to Panic with Kent Johnson

Kent Johnson played a season-low 6:57 against San Jose on Saturday. While that's concerning for a team looking to grow with young players, it's not time to panic quite yet.
Tampa Bay Lightning v Columbus Blue Jackets
Tampa Bay Lightning v Columbus Blue Jackets / Jason Mowry/GettyImages

Kent Johnson was benched in the second period by Blue Jacket head coach Pascal Vincent on Saturday night. There's no way to sugar coat or hide that fact.

I had to go back and re-watch the game to figure out what caused this. At first viewing, it seemed like Kent played a pretty good game. I noticed him doing what he does best: slowing the pace of play and creating offensive chances. What else do we want from him?

Upon further viewing, however, I can see that this was actually a learning moment for a trio of young players. Or, honestly, a duo of young players (Johnson and Emil Bemstrom; Cole Sillinger was not benched). Here is the play in question:

As you can see, when the puck comes up the far wall, defenseman Ivan Provorov pinches up to try to keep play alive. The Sharks make a good play on the boards and win a zone exit.

Pay close attention to the forwards on this play. Cole Sillinger (F1) is the first forechecker, and he lays a strong hit in the corner. But, his two wingers are completely absent on the play.

The moment Provorov pinches up, one of the other forwards has to cover the weak side point. In this case, Johnson is probably in better position to do that. He does not. Then, when the puck is turned over, he gives a half-hearted effort on the back-check; not even trying to catch the guy he should already be in front of.

Bemstrom, to his credit, works his tail off to get there - but it's too late and the Sharks score on the play. Johnson is in position to cover the third attacker on the play, but he's of virtually no danger because Anthony Duclair essentially has a breakaway.

While I do understand everyone's concern with such a low ice time number for Kent Johnson, it's really just part of the process for a young player in this league. It's better for his development in the long-term, to discipline him for plays like this.

It's not time to panic just yet. If you only compare his offensive numbers year-over-year, his production is slightly down. Last year, he scored 40 points in 79 games (.50ppg); this year, he has 16 in 37 (.43ppg). But, this number could be easily skewed back in the right direction with one or two offensive outbursts.

The important thing I'm going to take away, is the improvement to his dreaded +/- number. Everyone hates this stat (yours truly included). But, Kent Johnson was thrown to the wolves last season and finished with a -19 rating. This year, he's sitting at +2.

That speaks to two things. First, he's seeing his ice time shielded a little bit. And secondly, he's progressing in his overall game. While I don't ever see him being a Selke Trophy winner or a big physical presence; we all knew he needed to improve in his game away from the puck. There is progress being made here.

In a perfect world, he would play 20+ minutes a night and be the offensive contributor we hoped he would be by now. But, players develop at different paces. Look no further than Cole Sillinger, who didn't look like an NHL player at all last season - but has been pretty good for the team this year.

We have no choice but to trust the process. In this instance, I'll give Vincent a pass for benching Johnson. The effort on that play was not good enough.