For a former first overall pick, Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson has quietly settled into a role as half of the team's top defensive pair. Although his usual partner for the last couple of seasons has been Jan Hejda, it is expected that next season Johnson will be paired with newly acquired Brad Stuart. It has been an unconventional road that Johnson has traveled to be where he is in his NHL career now.
Originally selected first overall by the St. Louis Blues in the 2006 NHL Draft, Johnson was expected to become an elite NHL defenseman who would consistently garner Norris Trophy consideration. Unfortunately, he has not lived up to those expectations. Any player who is taken first overall in the draft is expected to become one of the game's best players, but, as in Johnson's case, that doesn't always happen. Late during Johnson's third NHL season, the Blues were apparently not satisfied with the rate at which Johnson was developing as a pro, and they traded him to Colorado at the 2011 trade deadline.
Despite not turning out the way it was originally thought he would, Johnson has become a very good NHL defenseman. He has been and remains one of the best Colorado has, and as such is on the top pair. Johnson is one of the only players in the league who can say he failed to live up to expectations by becoming a top pair NHL defenseman. If you were to ask an NHL analyst how many defensemen across the league they would say are better than Johnson, most would probably say somewhere between 25 and 35. That makes him a legitimate top-pair defenseman, but not an elite one. For just about anyone else, that would not be viewed negatively. Johnson, however, doesn't get much credit for being a good defenseman only because he was supposed to be one of the best. It isn't exactly fair, but that is the fate of a player taken first overall who wasn't actually THAT good.
The clearest evidence for how the hockey world now regards Johnson is the fact that he was not selected for the 2014 United States Olympic team. According to the committee making those decisions, there were no less than eight better U.S. born choices for the American squad, even though Johnson had been an Olympian four years earlier when he was still a raw talent. His play during the 2013-2014 season was at a higher level than it had ever been in his career to that point, yet his name was not called.
Regardless of what anyone outside the Avalanche organization thinks of him, Johnson is a valuable part of the team. He can be fairly mentioned as being a part of the young core of excellent players who should be together in Colorado for many years to come. While the Avalanche could still stand to get deeper defensively, there's no reason to think that Johnson shouldn't have a significant role on the team. He'll just quietly continue getting the job done.
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