50Ryan Johnson
Photo Credit: courtesy USHL

Flames 2019 First Round Targets: Ryan Johnson

The Calgary Flames drafted three players out of the United States at the 2018 NHL Draft – two from the United States Hockey League and one from high school. California kid Ryan Johnson could continue the Flames’ love affair with American prospects.

Scouting report

The son of former NHL winger Craig Johnson, Ryan was born in Irvine, California while his dad was playing for the Los Angeles Kings. The July 2001-born Johnson grew up to be a left shot defender and made his way to the USHL in 2018-19 after a handful of really impressive seasons with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks.

Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst had a detailed breakdown of Johnson’s game in a November mock draft:

A future Minnesota Gopher who patrols the blue like with confidence, poise and smarts, Johnson is the top defenseman on a talented Sioux Falls squad. The son of former NHLer Craig Johnson, Ryan is as steady as they come when it comes to draft-eligible rearguards, but he’s also also a weapon to into the power play and the attack at even strength. Blessed with nimble feet and quick lateral movement, Johnson covers ground in a hurry and effortlessly glides towards where he wants to get to. He’s a confident puck carrier who leaves pressure in the dust by using a lot of head fakes, pivots and quick changes of pace, but he also passes the puck with both accuracy and authority. Johnson is an excellent bank passer, and he must have a high success rate with his subtle leads that help teammates escape from the defensive zone. He’s a cerebral penalty killer with a quick stick who reacts accordingly and is able to equally distribute his attention to the points and both the weak or strong-side threats. Although he isn’t very physical, Johnson shuts down zone entry attempts by making timely step-ups and telegraphing an opponent’s intentions.

Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News had a slightly shorter rundown:

One of the top 2019 draft prospects from the USHL this season (non-NTDP, that is), Johnson continues to make plays at both ends of the ice for the Stampede as they get set to take on Chicago in the Clark Cup final. Johnson, a University of Minnesota commit, is a “one-man breakout” according to one scout.

The zone entry suppression and ability to generate defensive breakouts is huge and reflective of Johnson’s high hockey sense. His skating is strong and while he’s not a physical beast, he’s got enough smarts to know that he needs to rely on hockey sense, positioning and skating to defend – you could make a case that he’s TJ Brodie-esque in that regard.

The numbers

Johnson made a big jump this past season, moving from the minor midget Tier 1 Elite Hockey League to the major junior USHL. After making the jump, he emerged as one of the most consistent two-way defenders in the circuit.

His offense was really solid – particularly relative to his age group – but not eye-popping. He had 25 points in 54 games. Among defensemen in his age group, he was tied for fifth in points and goals, tied for fourth in primary points, even strength points and primary points, and was tied for second in even strength goals. He was behind four defenders in terms of overall offensive production: Tri-City’s Zac Jones, Team USA’s Cam York, Central Illinois’ Ryan Siedem and Team USA’s Domenick Fensore.

Sioux Falls wasn’t a stacked team, but they managed to win the USHL’s Clark Cup with a team mentality. Johnson wasn’t the main driver of the team’s offense – he was tied for 13th on the team in points – but he definitely found ways to chip in.

Availability and fit

In the past, the Flames haven’t shied away from drafting the sons of former NHLers. The nice thing about them is that they know what the lifestyle is like and they know the potential pitfalls that young players have to avoid as they develop. He’s another up-and-coming American prospect from an increasingly potent talent pool, and one the Flames have frequently gone to in recent years.

A smart defender with great skating, strong two-way play and a “work-in-progress” offensive game sounds like a project that the Flames would be willing to take on. After all, they were more than willing to tackle Oliver Kylington’s development head-on and the big hole in his game was on the defensive side of things.

In terms of availability, the consensus is that Johnson will probably be available at 26th overall: ISS has him outside the first round, Dobber Prospects has him 33rd, the Draft Analyst/Sporting News has him 41st, my rankings at The Hockey Writers have him 45th, Sportsnet has him outside the first round, The Athletic has him 41st and outside the top 100, and The Hockey News has him 29th.

Johnson isn’t a sure thing – there might not be any at 26th overall – and there may be more showy or exciting players available, but he’s a promising young player who’s strong in the defensive and neutral zones and is making progress in the offensive zone.

2019 first round targets

Egor Afanasyev | John Beecher | Tobias Björnfot | Bobby Brink | Simon Holmström | Pavel Dorofeyev | Anttoni Honka

  • freethe flames

    6′ 170 LHS; again a guy we should be interested in if BT can add some second round picks. The more I read the guys being suggested the more I think we consider moving the pick to get a guy who can help us now and for the next few years to be more competitive.

    • Baalzamon

      Yeah, they haven’t profiled guys like Lavoie and Heinola yet. Even Arthur Kaliyev (who had 102 points in the OHL last year) is ranked below 26 on some lists.

      It seems like they’re getting the more underwhelming ones out of the way first.

    • Slick77

      This guy isn’t that much of a reach.
      Ranked #18 by HOCKEYPROSPECT.COM
      Ranked #25 by MCKEEN’S HOCKEY
      Ranked #33 by NHL CENTRAL SCOUTING (NA Skaters)
      Ranked #26 by ELITEPROSPECTS.COM
      Ranked #30 by TSN/McKenzie

  • cjc

    He sounds like a really interesting option – as always, it’s nice to know how similar players have progressed. His production isn’t that far off guys like Brady Skjei, Will Butcher, Jacob Slavin and Michael Matheson (who were all slightly “older” during their 17-YO seasons). That said there are a lot of players with similar production who haven’t amounted to anything at the NHL level. But they could draft this kid, leave him in college for a few years, and he’d be ready to be eased in when Gio retires.

  • freethe flames

    I want to finish my thought on trading the pick away for some immediate help. The rumour out there is that the Flames are interested in Zucker(27) a LHS who plays some RW cap hit 4 x5.5Mand whose best season ever was 64 points; he is not a big guy and only had 42 points last; the ask is believed to be Frolik(31) 1 x4.3 another LHS who had 34 points last year and one either Bennett(22) who had 27 points last year cap hit likely to be in the $2.5m range or the Flames 1st rounder. This sounds like a terrible deal for me in large part b/c Zucker while being a good player does not seem like a good fit.

    I would much rather pursue a player who is a fit for the needs of this team and pay a little more in assets. My favorite for a while has been Zibanejad and there is nothing out there to suggest he is even available but he would be a much better fit than Zucker and I would be more willing to pay a premium for him. He is 6’3 212 RHS who can play center or RW something this team really needs. He had a career high 74 points last season and has 3 x 5.35 left on his contract.; less than Zucker for a player that better fits our needs. The trade would have to revolve around the Rangers getting to choose between Brodie or Frolik , Janko or Bennett and our 1st rounder for Zibby and one of their second rounder. Again I know this would be highly unlikely.

    • everton fc

      I think we keep Bennett. We move Frolik to make room for Tkachuk’s 8mill/season contract. If Dube plays centre here, we have 5 guys down the middle – Monahan/Backlund/Jankowski/Ryan/Dube. The latter two can play wing.

      The thing about Frolik; he’s pretty durable, and, outside the 2017-18 season, pretty consistent, in terms of point totals. He’s an incredible competitor, most nights. He’d be good to keep around. But Dube may be able to replace his production, if used on the wing. We shall see.

      I don’t like the idea of moving Bennett. He’s got the grit and skill combination we lack. And he’ll still only be 23, when the season starts.

      • freethe flames

        I understand the reluctance to trade Bennett; I like much of his game and am fine with the role he plays. He will develop a bit more but I am not sure he will ever get a chance to be much more than he is here. However he might be the kind of trade chip that gets a deal done. In the scenario I painted up above I would much rather them take Janko but if the difference between making this trade was Janko vs Bennett I could live with that.

    • calgaryfan

      Zibanejad has a NMC that kicks in 1July 1 2019. I thought I heard the Flames were no longer looking at Zucker? I think Treliving learned from the playoffs that the Flames need to get more grit in the lineup.

    • deantheraven

      The talk on Zucker (I think) is that he’s a competitor who plays bigger than his size. I like guys like that and think they have their place on a roster, but I’m much more interested in guys who are big and play big.
      Skill+ size= winnah!

    • Mitchell

      I don’t think zibanajad will be available as 1st line centers dont grow on trees. However, craig custance wrote an article today about the top 20 players to move this summer. Brodie is #4 on the list, but there are some interesting top 6 forwards who are on the list in chris kreider at #8, and J.T. Miller at #9 both play a physical game that is desirable. Kreiders deal is pretty much a wash with Brodie, but it expires at the end of next year. Namestikov (shows up at #14 on the list), and jimmy vesey are other players NYR are interested in trading. J.T. Millers deal has 4 more years on it at around 5.2 million, but hes a little more versatile in that he can play all three forward positions (though hes a left hand shot). I’m thinking tampa would probably like to trade any of ryan Callahan, alex killorn, or tyler johnson before they trade miller.

      • freethe flames

        As I said in my opening sentence about Zibby there was no evidence he was available. Of the guys you list I could see Kreider but I would not be willing to pay the same premium for him as I would Zibby.

  • deantheraven

    They say you can teach defense but offense is intrinsic, instinctive. Your analogy to Kyllington doesn’t fit here. Olli had all the offensive tools, he needed to work on defending and has made huge leaps this past season. I hope he’s a regular come October.

  • Puck Head

    My list of guys to draft in the first round:

    Samuel Poulin (LW)
    Connor McMichael (C)
    Brett Leason (RW)

    All 6’ or taller with skill. One of them should be available at #26.

  • everton fc

    Been reading about the draft pool this summer. One guy in Round 3 who could be worth a punt is Nikita Alexandrov from Charlottetown. I must admit, I’ve only seen highlight reels today, but the feedback about his game is promising. Ethan Keppen’s another, John Beecher’s another (good wirte up on Keppen here – https://www.reddit.com/r/CalgaryFlames/comments/bovkcz/owls_draft_prospect_review_ethan_keppen/)

    A guy I’d take punt on in the later rounds would be Marcus Kallionkieli. What I’ve read about him – he’s a raw, possible diamond in the rough. Or, he could be another Joly. But in the later rounds, why not?

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I really think our scouting staff is as good as any, and believe Tre should try and get more bullets in the chamber for them to work with. If we can get a first a couple of second picks for Brodie and Frolik this could help rebuild our youth while still being one of the top teams for the next couple of years.

    My Wishlist

    1st round- Tomasino
    1st round – Lavoie
    2nd round – Knight
    2nd round – Leason

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I wonder if we could package a couple of these extra picks to pry Wilson from Washington or. Josh Anderson from Columbus…this would give our top line the grit and skill…with some protection for Johnny.