Starting an NHL franchise from scratch? You’re going to want to first find a top-line center who can score, drive the play, and make those around him better. The Seattle Kraken are hoping to find someone to fill that role right away in next summer’s Expansion Draft. But the need for a star center goes beyond just the team’s inaugural season. With so much focus on the Expansion Draft, it’s easy to forget that that will quickly be followed by the NHL Entry Draft. The Seattle Kraken hope to find their star center for the long term in that Entry Draft, and Kent Johnson could be their man.
Johnson will be on the Kraken radar as the season progresses towards Draft day as offensive threat and dynamic scorer. The University of Michigan freshman recorded four assists in his first collegiate game and eight points through the Wolverines first six contests.
It’s a great start for Johnson and comes after a monster junior season in 2019-2020 with the Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL where his 101 points in 52 games led the league by an impressive 30 points.
Johnson’s scoring prowess in Trail was noticed, and the 18-year-old showed up on last month’s NHL Central Scouting initial watch list as an ‘A’ ranked skater. That rating projects Johnson as at least a first-round pick, but other NHL Draft prognosticators rate him as a potential top-ten pick in 2021.
The 2021 NHL Draft will be the first for Seattle, and the Kraken will get the same odds in the lottery as the third-worst team this upcoming season. This means they will end up with a pick somewhere within the top six overall selections. By comparison, Vegas had the sixth overall pick in its first Draft.
Kent Johnson will be in the mix when the Seattle Kraken pick.
“He has high-end stick skills and creativity,” one NHL scout says about Johnson. “Great offensive instincts and for a young forward in the BCHL, had an impact every shift. I have seen his offensive flair only a few times in my 18 years of scouting.”
Johnson Dominated the BCHL
On his way to leading the BCHL in points, Johnson scored 41 times to go with 60 assists. His rookie campaign the season before was also efficient as he scored 20 goals that year.
While the BCHL is considered a small step down from major-junior leagues like the Western Hockey League, it is filled with high-end prospects, and Johnson’s numbers should not be discounted. Alex Newhook led the league with 101 points for the Victoria Grizzlies the season prior.
Newhook would go on to be a first-round Draft pick in 2019 by the Colorado Avalanche, and Johnson will be the next first-rounder to come out of the BCHL.
“I think the BCHL was a great league for me,” Johnson, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, said during Michigan’s media day. “Nice and close to home as a 16-year-old. Just to get my feet wet. My coach was really good and helped me improve my offensive game. (It gave me) more confidence and I worked on my offensive skills and tactics. Just being on the ice on so many offensive situations. A lot of work on goal scoring. There’s nothing like doing it in a game so that league was good for me.”
Johnson was coached in Trail by Jeff Tambellini, a veteran of 242 NHL games and a former first-round NHL Draft pick himself. Tambellini, who now scouts for the Tampa Bay Lightning, helped Johnson hone his already high hockey IQ and skills, giving him the freedom to cash in on his creativity.
That creativity included multiple lacrosse style goals Johnson scored with Trail.
“I think just like any other skill, it’s just practice,” Johnson said of the lacrosse goals. “I did it first in a roller hockey league I play in and that gave me the confidence to do it in an actual game.”
Johnson played in every situation for Tambellini and 14 of his goals came on the Smoke Eaters power play. He ended the season with 39 points on the manpower advantage, along with one short-handed goal. He’s already become a staple on Michigan’s power play unit this season.
From Port Moody to Ann Arbor
Johnson grew up in Port Moody, British Columbia and found the NCAA route an easy choice after his Bantam team took a trip to Penn State.
“I thought the Big 10 and college hockey was really cool,” Johnson said. “My brother went through that so I’ve always liked college hockey.”
Johnson’s older brother Kyle came up through the same Burnaby Winter Club that Kent did as a youth and also played in the BCHL. He is now in his third season at Yale. Kent Johnson says the two brothers are close, albeit competitive, and Kyle had a big influence on his game and the decision to play college hockey.
The younger Johnson’s interest in the NCAA route was well known, and that led to WHL teams staying away from him during the 2017 Bantam Draft. The Everett Silvertips took a flier with a 10th-round pick just in case the high-scoring center changed his mind.
Johnson honored his commitment to Michigan and is part of an impressive freshman class of Wolverines. Along with Johnson, Michigan defenseman Owen Power and center Matthew Beniers are also ‘A’ ranked prospects, according to NHL Central Scouting.
Like most players, Johnson was unable to get the ice time he’s used to during the quarantine. Knowing that he was making a big jump in competition, Johnson said he spent a lot of time shooting pucks in his garage this summer and feels that he has improved his wrist shot and backhand as a result. His stick skills and shot were already a strong part of his game, and he’s been showing off the improved tools early on this season.
The Seattle Kraken will have to find ways to get live viewings of Kent Johnson and other Draft prospects. NHL scouts are not allowed at Michigan home games due to Covid protocols but there will be chances to see Johnson on the road or on television. If the Kraken are impressed with what they see, he could hear his name called as the first ever Seattle pick.
Michigan is must-see television this season, and you can watch Kent Johnson and his fellow highly-rated prospects for yourself this week as the Wolverines take on Penn State.