Detroit Red Wings 2021 NHL draft: Steve Yzerman picks a Michigan man

Detroit Free Press

As Kent Johnson adapted to a more physical style of play, he was able to still show the skill set that makes him such an intriguing hockey player.

Johnson is among the top prospects in the 2021 NHL draft, the first round of which will be held virtually July 23. Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman holds the sixth pick, and it is vital his selection boosts the rebuild.

As Yzerman has noted, the Wings need help at every position: Offense, defense and goaltending. Since becoming GM in April 2019, Yzerman has used his first picks to draft defenseman Moritz Seider in 2019 and forward Lucas Raymond in 2020.

Previous editions of this series have examined forwards Mason McTavish and Dylan Guenther, and goaltender Jesper Wallstedt. In this edition, Yzerman goes for a player who boasts high-end offensive skills. Johnson had a sold freshman year at Michigan, learning what he needs to hone as he eyes a future in the NHL.

MOCK DRAFT 1.0: Why taking center Mason McTavish makes sense

MOCK DRAFT 2.0:Two options for Steve Yzerman to fill goaltending hole

MOCK DRAFT 3.0: How Dylan Guenther could power rebuild

“I think getting a bit more explosive will help,” Johnson said during a video conference this week. “But it was good to see a lot of my offensive instincts and a lot of my plays translate to playing offense in college.”

F Kent Johnson

Size:  6 feet 1, 165 pounds.

2020-21: 9 goals, 18 assists in 26 games at Michigan.

The buzz: Johnson’s creativity was on full display his last year in the British Columbia Hockey League (2019-20) when he recorded 41 goals and 60 assists in 52 games, boosting his points-per-game average from 0.80 to to 1.94. He adapted well to the more physical style of play in the NCAA, even as he switched from center to wing. Johnson played with Matty Beniers, anoither top-ranked 2021 draft prospect, and senior forward Luke Morgan to form a potent line.

Why he makes sense: Johnson is a talented forward who mostly played center until he got to Michigan, when he showed his adeptness at playing left wing. He’s got sky-high hockey IQ, able to find linemates with passes that others wouldn’t even think of. (In that regard, he should remind Wings fans of Thomas Vanek, who in his brief stints with the team showed a dazzling capacity for finding lanes. Of course, it helps when there’s someone who can finish on those scoring chances.) Under Michigan coach Mel Pearson, Johnson nourished his offensive skills while also honing his forechecking. He’s a smooth skater, adept on breakouts, and fearless with the puck. Like everyone else his age, he needs to gain strength, but as he matures into his body, he projects to be a two-way, top-six forward.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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