The gifted forward from Port Moody, British Columbia won’t turn 20 until 18 October. However, Johnson has already completed an incredible trifecta this hockey season by suiting up at the World Juniors in Edmonton, the Olympics in Beijing, and now the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Helsinki.
Even though those World Juniors were cut short by Omicron and Canada settled for sixth place at the Winter Games, it’s not as if the fifth overall pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets (2021) has just been collecting participation ribbons.
When he scored a second-period power play goal in Canada’s opening 5-3 win over Germany in Helsinki on Friday, he became just the fourth player in history to get at least one goal at the World Juniors, Olympics, and Worlds in the same season. The others are Saku Koivu (Finland, 1993-94), Yevgeni Malkin (Russia, 2005-06), and Eeli Tolvanen (Finland, 2017-18).
Johnson described his PP marker modestly: “I just got a nice pass on the power play [from Dawson Mercer]. I tried to look off the goalie and I got a good shot there.”
The 185-cm, 76-kg attacker is famous for his magic hands, but also brings a great hockey mind. He was paying close attention when head coach Claude Julien gave his pre-game speech before the Germany game. What was the message for the defending champion Canadians?
“Just to come out and set the tone for the tournament,” said Johnson, who played 14:08 on a line with New Jersey’s Mercer and Ottawa’s Drake Batherson. “To dictate the game and not let them dictate it.”
Assistant captain Pierre-Luc Dubois, who was named Canada’s best player of the game with two goals on Germany, was impressed by Johnson: “I hadn’t really watched him play before. I obviously heard from him, saw him at the World Juniors a little bit. Saw him in practice. He’s been great. He’s a shy kid. He’s really nice. So to see him score his first World Championship goal is nice. Him and Cole Sillinger too. Lot of talent. I wish I had those hands!”
Johnson has had such a packed IIHF year that you can almost overlook his accomplishments with the University of Michigan. The former star of the BCHL's Trail Smoke Eaters totalled 37 points in 32 games with the stacked Wolverines this season. His second-period power play goal against the University of Minnesota gave Michigan a 4-3 championship win at the 2022 Big Ten Conference Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament on 19 March.
“It’s pretty crazy, getting all these opportunities,” Johnson said. “I’ve been pretty thankful for all of them, so it's been great.”
Playing at these Worlds is yet another opportunity to soak up information from other stars. Not only did he room at Michigan with Owen Power, who was the #1 pick of the Buffalo Sabres and won the Worlds in Riga in 2021, but he also shared living quarters in Beijing with Power, Mason McTavish, Landon Ferraro, and Eric O’Dell.
During the Olympics, he was excited to play for Team Canada with captain Eric Staal, a 2010-minted member of the Triple Gold Club. Among opponents, Johnson took special note of Czechia’s David Krejci, who led the Stanley Cup playoffs in scoring with Boston in 2011 and 2013 and continues to perform at a high level.
With everyone from captain Thomas Chabot to assistant captain Josh Anderson to learn from in Finland, Johnson should take another step forward in his development in May. He could well top the five points (1+4=5) he totalled at the Olympics for 13th place in the scoring race.
“It’s awesome,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of great players here in our locker room. So it’s a really great experience for me.”
Dubois has a good sense of what Johnson is going through right now. The Winnipeg Jets ace was, like Johnson, a recent high Columbus draft pick (third overall in 2016) when he played his first Worlds in Denmark in 2018. Canada finished fourth. It was a learning experience.
“It’s a hard tournament to win,” Dubois said. “I remember when I was at my first tournament, there were guys like Ryan O'Reilly, Colton Parayko, and Brayden Schenn. Connor McDavid, obviously! We had a lot of guys who had been in a lot of tournaments. Some guys had even been to the Olympics. So it was great to learn from them.”
Johnson loves multiple sports as a participant and spectator, from golf to basketball to baseball. Yet his mind will be fully focused on hockey when Canada tries to stay perfect against the underdog Italians on Sunday. What will be the key to victory?
“Keep doing what we did [against Germany]. Have good entries and then move it around, try to hit the seams.”