It’s Armchair GM Season, as the SB Nation NHL sites come together and simulate the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
When thinking about how the San Jose Sharks and the Dougs Wilson, both junior and senior, will approach the seventh-overall pick, I feel certain that they will be targeting a forward. Between the contracts currently bogging down the defense, Mario Ferraro becoming a mainstay and Ryan Merkley waiting in the wings, I’m confident that the Sharks are fine passing on the many defenders projected to go in the first round.
That’s also because this pick theoretically gets the team closer to a player that is near-NHL ready than they’ve been since taking Timo Meier at ninth-overall in 2015, and they need help scoring as soon as possible. Meier played one additional year of juniors before splitting the 2016-17 season between the San Jose Barracuda and the Sharks.
At seventh overall, they’ll be expecting a similar timeline. Among the forwards I had my eye on who might be on a similar trajectory were the SHL’s William Eklund and Mason McTavish of the Swiss League ... both of whom were taken immediately before the Sharks were on the board.
Here’s the draft board so far:
1. Owen Power — Buffalo Sabres
2. Matthew Berniers — Seattle Kraken
3. Dylan Guenther — Anaheim Ducks
4. Luke Hughes — New Jersey Devils
5. William Eklund — Columbus Blue Jackets
6. Mason McTavish — Detroit Red Wings
With the seventh pick in the 2021 Draft, Fear the Fin selects center Kent Johnson from the University of Michigan’s Wolverines Hockey Program.
Who is Kent Johnson?
If you were keeping up with Sharks prospect Thomas Bordeleau’s rookie NCAA season, you’re familiar with his teammate and fellow rookie Kent Johnson.
The center began in the BCHL, earning an “A” for his final season with the Trail Smoke Eaters in 2019-20. Johnson topped the entire league in every scoring measure, with 101 points (41 goals, 60 assists) in 52 games, all while serving just 14 penalty minutes. He was a one-man force that brought the team from seventh in the Interior Division all the way up to second — a 20-point difference in the standings — before the season was cancelled due to coronavirus.
Jumping into the Big Ten with the University of Michigan Wolverines, Johnson trailed Bordeleau by just three points, notching nine goals and 18 assists and taking only two minor penalties during the 2020-21 season. Discipline is baked into his game, but it never keeps him from being creative with the puck.
Johnson has already earned a number of accolades, including being named to the 2019 BCHL All-Rookie Team, the 2021 NCAA B1G All-Rookie Team and 2021 NCAA B1G Honorable Mention All-Star Team, as well as winning the Bob Fenton Trophy (BCHL Most Sportsmanlike Player), Vern Dye Memorial Trophy (BCHL Most Valuable Player), Brett Hull Trophy (BCHL Top Scorer), and being named a CJHL Top Forward in 2019-20.
It’s really difficult to watch Kent Johnson and not love the experience. Even when he’s a bit too confident and the play is a miss, you still have to appreciate his vision and creativity, which is head and shoulders above his peers.
The front office would be familiar with Johnson, as they kept an eye on the Wolverines, not only to track Bordeleau’s progress, but also checking on other 2021 draft talent on the roster. Ranked third among North American skaters by Central Scouting, Johnson stood out, with most final draft rankings placing him between sixth and tenth overall. Playing Armchair GM, I can see a world where he ends up in teal.
The Sharks need to take advantage of their draft position and get a top-six talent. Kent Johnson is one of the few players in this draft who can fast-track to that role.
Why not Johnson?
There are three main knocks against Johnson’s game, not least of which is his skating. His feet can use some work and are the biggest risk when it comes to his transition to the NHL. That said, as his skating improves, it will only serve to enhance his skillset, especially as his stride gains power and edgework improves.
Aside from that, his defensive play and physicality are a bit lacking, though going into his age-19 season, he’s still got plenty of time to develop away from the puck.
Finally, his play style is risky, as his aforementioned overconfidence can leave Sharks fans with a familiar feeling in their mouths when the rest of the team can’t keep up with his vision (yes, I am comparing him to Erik Karlsson, why do you ask?). That said, a team should never look to dumb down the hockey IQ of its stars, lest they end up like, well, the 2021 Sharks.
Kent Johnson may be a risk, but if Eklund and McTavish are off the board, the Sharks should take a risk to fill an organizational need.