When the Dallas Stars made the trade for Patrick Sharp from the Chicago Blackhawks last summer, Stephen Johns was a defensive prospect that came over as part of the package. Needing to shed salary cap, the Hawks decided to try to rid themselves of a Sharp whose production had been relatively lower in recent seasons for the high-flying offense he had delivered in Cup years of yore. In order to take on the salary, Dallas asked for a defensive prospect in return (since they were parting with Trevor Daley as well).
That prospect was Johns, largely regarded as (or nearly) NHL-ready. The 24 year old defenseman did not make the NHL roster out of training camp, though one could argue that was a product of the sheer volume of waiver-eligible and NHL-only contracts the Stars were carrying at defense.
Instead, Johns went down to the Texas Stars, where he played big minutes for the AHL affiliate team. He partnered with Esa Lindell to form the top penalty killing pair for the team. Johns was eventually called up to the Dallas roster once injuries created the need for additional bodies. Once in Dallas, he forced the coaching staff to continue to play him after his debut, and quickly earned the trust of the coaching staff with his play over other more-established guys like Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak.
Johns played sheltered minutes, but he also helped stabilize the second pairing with the absence of Jason Demers. He showed good chemistry with Johnny Oduya, and the pairing was one of the better blueline duos in the playoffs on the Stars team. While he did not play the hardest competition from the opposing team, he held his own and didn't look out of place on the NHL roster.
The expectation for Johns next season is that he will make the team as a second-pairing guy next to Johnny Oduya. It would be nice to see Johns get some penalty killing time in Dallas, as he was a specialist at it at the lower levels he's played so far. With the potential absence of guys like Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers, there are opportunities to expand Johns' usage at the NHL level.
Until next season, we're left asking how we would grade his season in Dallas. For my vote, he gets a solid B+ or A-, since I didn't expect him to stick in the lineup once the Stars got healthier based on sheer volume of players. But that was a very nice surprise this season.