As reported early Wednesday evening, the Penguins decided to re-assign defenseman Juuso Riikola (who’s only played in 34 of the team’s 74 games and has been a healthy scratch for a while) and recent forward addition Joseph Blandisi to their AHL club, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, so that they could call-up a fourth line player that could bring in a pop of speed.
That opened the door for speedy, 24-year-old Adam Johnson to the opportunity of a lifetime — one he has been patiently waiting for his entire life. He’s finally getting the chance to show GM Jim Rutherford, head coach Mike Sullivan, and the rest of the Pittsburgh organization what he’s got.
“I’m really excited,” said Johnson. “It’s been a long time coming, and it’s what I’ve been working for my whole life. I’m pumped to be here. I just hope to contribute any way I can.”
Johnson has a solid 2018-19 resume to his credit, as he is ranked second on the WBS Penguins with 40 points (18 goals, 22 assists) in 63 total games played. His offensive point totals across the board have all improved and he’s currently riding a hot streak, with four goals and five helpers for 11 points coming in his last eight games down in the AHL.
With Blandisi barely making a splash, Johnson was the next man up for Rutherford to try out. For a career AHLer (so far) to make the jump from the AHL to the NHL, it’s obvious the player is going to have to get used to the increased level of speed and physicality the professional ranks impose. Johnson isn’t too worried about speed being a problem for him.
“My biggest asset is my speed,” said Johnson. “I hope that translates well. It’s going to be an adjustment — obviously guys are big and strong in the AHLas well, but they’re probably a little more so here (in the NHL). I’ll just try to play a solid defensive, 200-foot game. I think I’ll be able to handle it.”
What could be a more serious adjustment for Johnson is going from playing in a top-six scoring role in WBS to a more checking-type role on Pittsburgh’s fourth line.
“The transition (from one role to another) is one I’m comfortable making,” said Johnson. As long as I can help the team win here, I’d love to do it. So whatever I have to do to help them win, I’m all for it. It’s kind of a unique time. (The Penguins) are in a playoff push here, so I hope I can jump in, help with that push, and move up the standings.”
Johnson’s mom, dad, and friends will be making the trip to Nashville to witness his NHL debut vs. the Predators live. Hopefully he can provide Sullivan and the Penguins with the right kind of “pop” of speed they’re looking for to not only stay up in the pro ranks, but assist the team with its 13th-straight playoff berth.