Amidst all of the defensemen drama in the Lone Star State this season, Stephen Johns seems determined to not have his name come up in the discussion.
When Jim Nill made the move to acquire Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns in the summer of 2015, many around the team justifiably believed that Sharp was going to be the impact player of the two. Although there weren’t many, there were a few people who believed we would look back on this trade as the “Stephen Johns Trade” and not the “Patrick Sharp Trade”.
It looks like they may be right.
Sharp had a fantastic first season with Dallas and an unfortunate injury-plagued season to follow. Johns played in just 27 games for the Stars in his first season with the team, but 13 of them were all of Dallas’ playoff games. He was trusted early on by Lindy Ruff and Ken Hitchcock seems to enjoy having Johns to work with as well.
His first full season in a Stars uniform was last season and with it came plenty of ups and downs. The team struggled as a whole, which is certainly never a fun learning experience for a young defenseman. That being said, Johns at times looked overwhelmed which led to more than the desired amount of defensive-zone turnovers.
There was plenty of good to see from Johns last season as well. He was aggressive at both blue-lines which can be risky but for Johns it seemed to work out more often than not. One thing you don’t want to see from a young player is a passive game in which the player is afraid to take chances.
Johns isn’t and it has helped him more than it has hurt him in his young career.
The Rocky 2016-17 Season
No need to sugarcoat it, the 2016-17 Stars season was horrendous. They played poorly, they had rotten luck with injuries and ultimately that combined to spell the end of Ruff’s career in Dallas.
Johns, like many of his teammates, was an up-and-down player throughout the season. There were games where it looked like he could eat 30 minutes and play against the oppositions’ best. There were also games where he fed the puck to the oppositions’ best, leading Johns to eat his fair share of healthy scratches.
Above is a visual showing a game-by-game rolling total of Johns’ 5v5 shot differentials last season. As you can see, he was all over the place. He had a very strong start, which as I recall had a lot to do with how well he was holding his own blue-line.
He was not allowing his opponent to carry the puck in freely often in the first month of the season and it helped allow him to spend more time in the offensive zone. Unfortunately, that didn’t last.
Was Johns discouraged from holding his own blue-line after being burned a few times? Hard to know for sure, but he did appear to play a more passive game for stretches last season.
Part of that could have been the coaching staff harping on turnovers. Last season, only three regulars in the lineup had more 5v5 turnovers per 60 minutes of action than Stephen Johns. John Klingberg, Antoine Roussel and Jason Spezza were the only players who turned the puck over more often than Johns.
You can accept that from Klingberg and Spezza for the most part. It certainly can’t be entirely brushed under the rug but with two players who need and should have the puck on their stick a lot, a high amount of giveaways isn’t all that surprising. As for Roussel and more importantly, Johns, that rate can be troubling if you aren’t offsetting it with a ton of offensive creativity.
While Johns isn’t void of offensive talent, he isn’t known for that aspect of his game either. His higher rate of turnovers led to healthy scratches and likely led to him playing more passively. A passive game is an easy way for a player to bleed shot attempts against, even if they cut down on the turnovers.
Even with seemingly everything going against him, Johns was able to recover and enter the positive territory of shot totals toward the conclusion of the regular season. That has continued in his strong start to 2017-18.
The Beginning of 2017-18
Johns has enjoyed a nice, steady start to the 2017-18 season, outside of his concussion suffered a couple of weeks back. He missed a little time with that injury but has come back and looked just as strong as he did the opening few weeks of the season.
His ice-time is being managed well, he’s averaging just under 18 minutes a game which is last among all of the regular six defensemen.
Is the scaled back role a reason for his early success or should Johns be seeing a little more ice time?
According to the lovely and magnificent corsica.hockey, Johns is first among all Stars’ regulars in adjusted Corsi-For-%, currently sitting at 57.39%. I had to specify “regulars” because someone named Julius Honka is just ahead of him in that statistical category. Huh, weird.
Johns is also turning the puck over at a much lower rate than last season. He’s turning it over at a rate of 1.73 giveaways per 60 minutes of 5v5 play this season compared to 2.66 last season. Does that mean he is playing more passive and not taking risks?
That does not appear to be the case, as Johns has also done a nice job of chipping in offensively so far. He’s behind only Klingberg in primary points per 60 minutes of 5v5 play among Stars’ defensemen. He’s helping push the play into the opponents end and he’s often being rewarded for doing so.
With all of the drama involving the blue-liners this season, it’s good to see Johns rise to the occasion and not let his spot be up for the taking. With the lack of depth scoring up front, the depth defensemen need to make up the difference by playing as far away from Ben Bishop and Kari Lehtonen as possible.
So far, Johns has answered that call.