'This is my hometown': Jack Johnson wants to be a role model for Blue Jackets' young blue line (2024)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets’ search for defensive depth and another veteran voice in the dressing room has landed on a familiar player.

Defenseman Jack Johnson, who spent seven seasons with the Blue Jackets in the previous decade, signed a one-year, $775,000 contract — the NHL’s minimum salary — after visiting with GM Don Waddell in Nationwide Arena on Tuesday.

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Johnson, 37, has played in 1,187 games with six different franchises, winning the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2022. The 2024-25 season will be his 19th in the NHL.

Johnson has continued to live in suburban Columbus even as his career took him to Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers, Colorado, Chicago, and back to Colorado after he left the Blue Jackets as a free agent following the 2017-18 season.

The contract talks started when Johnson got word to the Blue Jackets that he’d welcome a chance to play, and possibly finish his career, in Columbus.

“This is my hometown,” Johnson told The Athletic. “This city means a lot to me. This is where I’m raising my family. This is where my wife’s family is, too. It’s special, for sure.”

On Monday, the opening day of free agency, the Blue Jackets signed 29-year-old center Sean Monahan, to a five-year, $27.5 million contract to be the No. 1 center and help mentor their young forwards, especially centers Adam Fantilli and Cole Sillinger.

Johnson will be asked to play a similar role — along with other Blue Jackets veterans — with defensem*n David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk, two former first-round draft picks who will come to training camp with a solid chance to make the roster.

“I’m coming to play and compete like I do every night,” Johnson said. “But it’s a different situation (than Colorado). There are a lot of young guys, and I’m going to try to be the best example and role model I can be. I’ve been around a lot of great leaders in my career.

“I’m going to try to apply all those things toward helping this group out, on and off the ice. That’s the meal room, the weight room, having young guys over for dinner … whatever I can do to help.”

Johnson is the only player in the Blue Jackets’ locker room with his name on the Stanley Cup. That should count for plenty in a room full of 20- and 21-year-olds.

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“It definitely changes your life,” Johnson said. “It gives you a new level of confidence, and it gives you a new level of knowledge, just knowing how hard it is to win. It’s definitely the hardest trophy in sports to win, and there’s a great sense of pride that comes with winning it.

“It’ll be with me forever. I’m hoping I can do whatever I can to have a small piece in helping this organization get there.”

If Johnson’s role is similar to the one he played in Colorado, it’ll be as a third-pairing player with heavy penalty-kill duties. At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, he throws his weight around in the corners and at net front. In 80 regular-season games with Colorado last season, he had 3-13-16 and played 14:55 per game.

“I feel like I have a lot of good hockey to give,” he said.

Much has changed since Johnson played in Columbus.

The only Blue Jackets players who were on the club when Johnson last played for the Jackets in 2017-18 are defenseman Zach Werenski and captain Boone Jenner. Some of his other former teammates — Jared Boll, Derek Dorsett and others — are working for the club now.

“I saw a lot of familiar faces over there today,” Johnson said. “And the (renovated) dressing room is amazing. I swear, if I didn’t have somebody showing me around, I would have gotten lost in there. It’s definitely an NHL dressing room now.”

Johnson infuriated the Blue Jackets — especially former coach John Tortorella — when, after he signed with the Penguins in the summer of 2018, he told the Pittsburgh media that he’d “been looking to be in a winning culture.” Johnson insisted then that he was speaking only of Pittsburgh, not trying to insult the Blue Jackets.

(Photo of Jack Johnson: Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images)

'This is my hometown': Jack Johnson wants to be a role model for Blue Jackets' young blue line (1)'This is my hometown': Jack Johnson wants to be a role model for Blue Jackets' young blue line (2)

Aaron Portzline is a senior writer for The Athletic NHL based in Columbus, Ohio. He has been a sportswriter for more than 30 years, winning national and state awards as a reporter at the Columbus Dispatch. In addition, Aaron has been a frequent contributor to the NHL Network and The Hockey News, among other outlets. Follow Aaron on Twitter @Aportzline

'This is my hometown': Jack Johnson wants to be a role model for Blue Jackets' young blue line (2024)
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