The Columbus Blue Jackets could have as many as two fresh faces in their lineup when they host the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.
Forward Kent Johnson, selected fifth overall by Columbus in the 2021 NHL Draft, could make his debut after signing with the club last week following the University of Michigan’s semifinal elimination at the Frozen Four tournament.
Johnson was one of the top scorers in the NCAA this season, with 37 points (eight goals, 29 assists) in 32 games on a stacked Michigan squad.
On Monday, he participated in his first practice with the Blue Jackets (34-33-6, 74 points).
“It’s just really exciting,” Johnson said. “Every time I’m off the ice, I want it to be tomorrow’s practice already. It’s definitely just really fun and exciting. I just want to help the team win any way I can, see what role I’m given in a game and do what I can with it.”
He could have company in defenseman Nick Blankenburg, his Michigan teammate and captain, who also signed with Columbus as an unrestricted free agent following four seasons in college.
“I don’t really think many people expected me to be here,” said Blankenburg, undersized at 5-feet-9. “Just to be here for me personally and believing in myself and having that belief has really helped me along the way. … Just trying to compete and just trying to work as hard as I can and have fun because if I’m not having fun, why am I playing, you know? That’s the biggest thing.”
The Blue Jackets aim to find a winning groove again as they play out the stretch. The team has won two of its past three after a seven-game losing streak and is looking for consecutive wins for the first time since a three-game winning streak from March 11-16.
It’s been a tough go for the Canadiens (20-42-11, 51 points) of late, with just three wins in their past 11 games.
Most recently, they’re coming off their second straight defeat, a 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Monday — their third loss in the past four games.
While the team looks to get back to winning, interim coach Martin St. Louis also has the future in mind while guiding the team.
“If I’m here next season, I won’t feel like I’m starting from scratch,” St. Louis said. “I think this is a good opportunity to implement the concept, the culture I’m trying to bring, collectively, individually. … I don’t know what will happen, but I understand when I talk to some of the players, it might make them think a little bit and, when you think, there may be a little more hesitation in the game. But once it becomes clear through repetition, through video, through the conversation, they’re in a better place.”
The Canadiens announced Tuesday that goaltender Jake Allen will miss the remainder of the season with a groin injury while rookie defenseman Justin Barron is done with an ankle injury.
–Field Level Media