Defenseman Jack Johnson stood in front of his old but new Avalanche dressing room stall with a huge grin while surrounded by reporters.
It felt surreal.
“I woke up this morning and couldn’t believe it,” Johnson said Monday, less than 24 hours after being traded from Chicago to Colorado, where last season he helped the Avs win a Stanley Cup. “I couldn’t believe I was back.”
Jack Johnson (a very popular guy today) on his goal in rejoining the #Avs: “Help this team get to the ultimate prize again.” pic.twitter.com/vQql8njORr— Kyle Fredrickson (@kylefredrickson) February 27, 2023
Colorado’s decision to swap defensemen with the Blackhawks — Johnson for Andreas Englund — makes sense when considering the variables. Both players have a similar brand of physical hockey on the back end. The big difference is Johnson’s overwhelming experience advantage (17 NHL seasons), including the playoffs, with 13 games played on Colorado’s run to the Cup last year.
“I think it’s a great trade for us,” coach Jared Bednar said. “Experienced guy. A solid and steady defender. A great penalty killer. Adequate puck mover. He played great for us last year when things really got ratcheted up. All year, really. But in the playoffs especially.
“Experience never hurts especially when it’s coming from quality people. That’s the type of player that we try to focus on bringing in here. Jack is a fantastic teammate, a great human being. Guys like being around him and he fits in seamlessly.”
Johnson is more than just a dressing room fixture for the Avalanche. They need him to fill the injury gaps among Colorado’s defensive corps with the return timelines unclear for Cale Makar (concussion protocol) and Erik Johnson (lower body injury). It's possible that Makar is available for Wednesday's home game versus the New Jersey Devils, per Bednar.
Johnson earned 19:19 of ice time in Monday night’s home victory over the Golden Knights with two hits and one shot on goal. His main priority in rejoining the Avs?
“Help this team get to the ultimate prize again,” Johnson said. “I try to be consistent every night. Come in with the right amount of enthusiasm that’s necessary to succeed in this league every day. … Once you win, and experience (a Stanley Cup), it’s such an unbelievable feeling that you want to do it again. There’s no doubt that this team has their sights set on that.”
It’s a full circle scenario from the season opener at Ball Arena when the Blackhawks visited Ball Arena. Johnson came off the Chicago bench pregame and joined Avalanche players on the ice for a championship banner raising ceremony. It’s a special memory that takes on new significance.
“That was incredible. It was funny. I didn’t ask for anything. They told me to come out and watch the banner going up,” Johnson said. “I was pretty hesitant because I was sitting there in a Hawks uniform. I didn’t want to photobomb the picture or the ceremony. … I just tried to stay in the back. But it was an incredible experience and pretty special that I was able to be a part of it.”
What’s next: The Avalanche (34-19-5) host the New Jersey Devils (39-15-5), 7 p.m. Wednesday (Altitude) at Ball Arena.