ST. LOUIS Erik Johnson, the Bloomington native who played at Holy Angels and then for the Gophers, is in his rookie season with the St. Louis Blues. As the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, the Blues expected big things of him.
Johnson had a strong training camp and a good preseason. He had earned himself a regular shift alongside Christian Backman. And then, in his second game, in the third period of a 3-3 game in Los Angeles, Johnson found himself on the point on the power play, skating with the likes of Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya.
From left of the net Weight passed to Johnson, who boomed home a slapshot for the game-winning goal.
Unfortunately, Johnson has not seen game action since. He took a puck off the inside of his right foot in the season opener. He finished that game and then played in the second before anyone realized he had a hairline fracture. It was only the last couple days that he started practicing again. He is officially listed as day-to-day and didn't play in Saturday night's 3-1 loss to the Wild.
"It was a good experience for me," Johnson said of his first two NHL games. "But it kind of left me wanting more. It's hard to sit out this long. But you have to deal with it."
Blues coach Andy Murray hasn't seen enough of Johnson to talk too much about his game. But he praised Johnson's approach to the game and his toughness while playing it.
"If we felt he wasn't ready to play here, he wouldn't be here," Murray said.
Said Johnson: "They teach us different tactics than in college. In Minnesota, they stressed getting up into the play a little more. Here the rink is so much smaller than in college, you have less room to do things. They teach simple play here a lot. You have to make the smart play, not always the pretty play."
Morning skates on game days are a part of NHL tradition. But Murray isn't a big fan, calling them one of the most overrated things in hockey. Murray rarely makes the skates mandatory. In St. Louis they're called "necessary skates," in that players who think it's necessary will skate.
Turns out Wild coach Jacques Lemaire doesn't entirely disagree.
"Myself, the morning skate is for the player that doesn't play a lot," Lemaire said. "Or the player that wants to shoot a couple pucks, players that want to feel their legs. That's it."
Lemaire runs a quick morning skate, and makes more of them optional as the season wears on. The players have varied views of them. Brian Rolston isn't a big fan; Pavol Demitra loves to get in his morning skate.
"For me it's more of a mental thing," center Wes Walz said. "If you don't skate in the morning, sometimes you don't feel mentally sharp for the game. But you have to listen to your body. If you need to stay off the ice, that's what you have to do."
Healthy scratches for the Wild on Saturday were defenseman Petteri Nummelin and winger Matt Foy.