More often than not, young blueliners struggle in the NHL in their second season. Often called the “sophomore slump” it’s the time in which other teams have enough video to understand your weaknesses — and expose them.
Could this year have been Stephen Johns’ sophomore slump?
After all, he played so strongly at the end of last season that he came up and earned a top six role immediately as an every night contributor. He earned his playing time over Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak, both of whom had spent the entire season at the NHL level fighting for ice time.
The physical play Johns brought to the lineup and good first pass displayed at the end of last season had most fans drawing him into the lineup as an every night contributor this season.
Unfortunately, a combination of roster construction, individual struggles, and coaches decisions saw Johns in and out of the starting defensive unit this season. He joined Oleksiak and Nemeth on the merry-go-round this year.
It’s no secret the detriment carrying eight blueliners had on the Stars roster this season. We’ve written about it ad naseum here throughout the entirety of the season and as we analyze individual contributors here in the offseason. Count Johns as another example.
But, he also struggled at times this year. Whether a combination of not finding the right partner or adjusting to the defensive system (whatever that was...) on a full time basis, Johns didn’t always look like the solid defensemen Stars fans saw at the end of last season. There were plenty of times in which his decision making looked a step behind, with passes not finding their target or coverage assignments were blown.
That’s not really unique to Johns, though. The entire unit struggled regardless of who was in the lineup.
Which leads us to coaching decisions. Yes, Johns struggled this year. He wasn’t the only one. But Johns was often the one finding himself riding pine instead of being allowed to work through his issues. Nemeth and Oleksiak could both be put in that group as well. After mistakes, in a season riddled with them, Johns would be a healthy scratch for several games until someone else made a mistake and found themselves out of the lineup.
And on and on goes the merry-go-round.
Luckily, the expansion draft next month provides the Stars a chance to potentially alleviate the issue and pick a direction. Is Johns the type of defensemen Dallas needs going forward? His play last year would indicate so — but his play this season may make him one of the blueliners exposed. The questions the front office have to ask themselves is 1) whether the struggles Johns had this season were byproducts of coaching and 2) whether he can get back to his solid contributions under new head coach Ken Hitchcock.
We’ll see soon enough how the organization views his future when the expansion draft protection lists are released. In my mind, there’s no way he wouldn’t be drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights if available to them.
How would you rate Stephen Johns 2016-17 season?
This poll is closed
A - played well, struggles were coaching related
B - played well, some struggles were to be expected after all
C - contributed as expected
D - below expectations
F - expose him to the expansion draft