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Stars Spotlight: Do We Miss Stephen Johns?

No, you don’t. You haven’t thought about him at all this year, other than to laugh at the Stars’ blue line and goaltending. With the Hawks surging to the top of the league, you haven’t thought about the holes on the blue line because they haven’t quite mattered as much as they did last year. And while he can’t seem to convince his coaches yet, Michal Kempny has at least shown a flash here or there of maybe, possibly filling whatever spot Johns might have. But that might not be the whole picture.

Because he’s been a name talked about in the Hawks’ world for longer than he’s actually been in the league, it feels like he’s been around longer than he actually has been. There was the drama of whether he’d even sign out of Notre Dame or if he’d go Kevin Hayes. Then he finally did, and he was the first defensive prospect Hawks fans had gotten excited about in a long time. So he was a name a lot of people knew for a couple years before he’d ever stepped onto an NHL sheet of ice. Then he was traded for literally nothing, which seemed a major boondoggle (and could still turn out to be in some ways).

All of that skews that Johns hasn’t even played 100 games in the league, including the 13 playoff games he got tossed into the deep end of last season. And that’s less than 100 games with a team that has the defensive plan and structure of kindergarten recess. It’s not exactly the best environment for a young d-man. Johns also spent half the season paired with Johnny Oduya, who we’ve seen evidence–though we can’t conclude yet–is really losing the fastball.

So what is Johns? Well, when he’s been paired with Dan Hamhuis, himself not exactly spry, he’s been pretty good. They have kicked around what they’ve seen together to the tune of a 54% Corsi in 250 minutes of even-strength time together (which shakes out to about 16-20 games worth). With Oduya that rate was 45%. In far less of a sample, Johns has played 157 even-strength minutes with Patrik Nemeth, and they’re carrying a 57% Corsi together. So the more mobile a partner Johns has the better he’s done. Not a huge shock. The last six weeks Johns has seen his Corsi number at 53.5%. It’s getting better.

Still, you wonder how far ahead he could be of where he is if he didn’t have to be completely panicked that every mistake he’s making is going to end up in billowing twine, horns, sirens, lights, music, and a ton of groans from those in green on both bench and stands. Johns has seen a .909 save-percentage when on the ice at evens, which is basically abhorrent. He has a PDO of .976, which again is terrible and really not all that much to do with him. The amount of shots, scoring chances, and the expected goals-against per 60 Johns is giving up are best on the team, and in some of those categories by a decent margin (his scoring-chances against per 60 is 2.5 better than second-placed Nemeth). When it comes to scoring chances against, Johns is actually top-25 in the league among d-men, which is pretty staggering considering where he’s playing.

While everyone had a good laugh that Johns didn’t crack the Stars lineup until a year ago, there really is little question he would have been up with the Hawks sooner than that given what their situation was defensively. But hey, yesterday’s gone and tomorrow may never come. The Hawks are pretty well positioned for a fourth parade this year. Bowman was able to recover from having to toss Johns overboard as ballast simply to get rid of Patrick Sharp by signing Kempny and Campbell and having Seabrook once again be competent.

But still… the Hawks haven’t been a great defensive team this year by any measure other than what Crawford and Darling have been able to bail them out of. Who would you rather see on the third pair now, Johns or TVR? Johns would have been something of a wonky fit, as he isn’t really a puck-mover, push-the-play guy yet. But he does project as to what those types of players should and will be partnered with, a mobile free safety. And next year, when everyone is a year older and Campbell’s gone and if Kempny has had enough and fucks back off to Russia… well, we may miss him then.

 

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