After watching Erik Johnson compete in a preseason rookie tournament in Traverse City, Mich., one NHL scout described him as “a man among boys.”
On Sept. 13, the day the St. Louis Blues opened its training camp, the roles were reversed for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
As Johnson pulled his 6-foot-4, 222-pound frame out from behind the wheel of his SUV, he was ready to report for his first day of work. Before he did, the 19-year-old sent his dad a text message.
“This is kind of the end of the beginning for me . . . ending my amateur career and starting my pro career,” Johnson wrote. “I’m excited about that.”
His dad’s response?
“Play your game, and I know you can do it. I have confidence in you. We support you all the way.”
As the future of the franchise, Johnson also has the support of his new employer.
“He’s going up two, three levels to the NHL, but after watching his training camp so far, he’s got the skill set to be able to do this,” Blues President John Davidson told the St. Louis media.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
“We’ve surrounded him [with veteran players], so the transition should be really smooth. He just has to play. He doesn’t have to worry about being the guy. He doesn’t have to carry this team. As a No. 1 pick, he’ll face his share of pressure and ups and downs, but the fans here are reasonable, patient people.”
While his progress has been watched intensely by Blues fans since being selected first overall in the 2006 draft, the 19-year-old Johnson tries to let others worry about things he can’t control.
“I’m not a guy that really puts pressure on myself too much,” he said. “I feel really good out there, I haven’t been nervous at all. I’ve been happy with how I’ve been playing and I’ve really been trying to keep things simple, so that’s helping me out a lot.”
Johnson’s first day began at 10:30 a.m., and wrapped up about 4 p.m.
Head Coach Andy Murray divided the team in three groups, so players aren’t on the ice all day, but each team did go through an off-ice workout, an hourlong practice and two of the three teams played a scrimmage game.
As coaches ran through the paces, Blues’ scouts were busy scribbling down notes as they watched the practices. Murray assigned each scout five or six players to watch, and that scout was responsible for an evaluation sheet on each player.
After spending much of the summer skating in development rookie camps, Johnson said the real deal was completely different.
“It had a different kind of meaning for me, just because I’m playing for a spot in the NHL,” Johnson said. “It’s a little bit easier coming in now, after being in St. Louis so many times. I’m just kind of used to everything, so that made the transition smooth. I thought I had a good first day.”