Penguins

Wilkes-Barre Watch: Johnson shows speed, versatility as rookie

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Adam Johnson. - KDP PHOTOGRAPHY / WBS PENGUINS

Everything happened pretty suddenly for Adam Johnson last summer.

The 23-year-old attended Penguins development camp in late June on a tryout invitation after some light talks with the organization towards the end of his sophomore season at University of Minnesota - Duluth.

He was definitely attracted to the Penguins after seeing them give so many opportunities to younger players in recent years, and he thought his speed was a good fit for their system. Still, he wasn't expecting to earn a contract out of camp. On July 6, a few days after camp ended, he signed a two-year entry-level contract.

"A big reason I think they wanted me was my speed," Johnson said. "That's one of my biggest assets and that's something I try to bring every night ... I planned on going to school for at least another year, but when they offered it was tough to pass up so I decided to jump on it."

Just a few months later he was on a line with NHL players Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary during training camp, and made his NHL preseason debut, earning the praise of coach Mike Sullivan.

"We’re really excited about him," Sullivan said of Johnson. "He’s a quick and competitive kid. I thought his puck poise (vs. the Red Wings) was tremendous … definitely made a case for staying in the lineup.”

Since then, Johnson has been enjoying a successful rookie season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In 56 games this season, he's recorded nine goals and 16 assists.

Like most college players, it took some time to adjust to the frequency of games in professional hockey, and the speed of the game compared to the college game.

One of Johnson's biggest strengths is his versatility. He's capable of playing center and both wings, and he says he's comfortable at any position. He's played left wing for most games this season, spending less time at center because he's not strong enough in faceoffs in the pro game.

While you won't see Johnson on the blue line in Wilkes-Barre, he played defense some in high school, and one game in college. That time on defense allowed him to learn how defensemen see the game, and it benefits his game now.

"I think it's good growing up to play all positions, and obviously it helps to have a well-rounded game like that," he said. "It's good to have that versatility."

While Johnson has seen success at forward this season, he's not putting the puck in the net as often as he'd like.

"I'm good with the puck, I try to make plays with the puck," he said. "It's been tough in this league (to score), but that's something that I hope to improve on here moving forward."

This chance he had on Sunday is a good example of what he can do. He used his speed to get himself into a good position, although the puck didn't go in this time. This play though looked pretty similar to the last clip above, where he did score.

With the last few weeks of the season winding down, Johnson has his sights set on his first shot at professional hockey playoffs.

"It's definitely exciting," he said of the upcoming postseason. "It's a lot different than what college was like. It's going to be a series against really good teams, and they're going to be hard-fought series. It's going to be fun, it's going to be a battle, but I'm looking forward to it."

In addition to his goal-scoring, Johnson's main goal for the remainder of the season is just to be more consistent. If he keeps doing what he's doing, he thinks the work will pay off.

"I think if I work, they'll give me the opportunity if I earn it. I just gotta keep working towards that," he said. "They give young players a lot of chances and that's something I'm working towards.

"Hopefully, I'll get that shot at some point next season."

SPRONG SCRATCHED?

Daniel Sprong scored a goal on Saturday. It was his first goal since Feb. 23, first even-strength goal since Jan. 26.

That's a slump.

The offense was never Sprong's problem, obviously, but it has been as of late. He was scratched for Sunday's game, but it wasn't a form of punishment or indicative of the Penguins being down on Sprong. Clark Donatelli wanted Sprong to be able to see the game from a different angle, as they've done with him earlier in the season, in addition to film study away from the games.

Hopefully such work will prevent decisions like these in the future, attempting a bad pass when there's an opportunity for a prime shot:

Sprong is one of only three active players on Wilkes-Barre's roster to have a negative +/-, and his minus-7 is the worst on the team, while leading the team in goals, assists, and points.

I've seen more than a few fans calling Sprong the next Derrick Pouliot, and that might be taking it too far. He hasn't played a full first professional season yet. He hasn't had much time at all. Still, he's not ready to be back in Pittsburgh just yet. Given his play lately, he's not doing anything that would make Pittsburgh any better, and it's better for his development to play regularly while doing this extra film work in Wilkes-Barre.

MORE FROM WILKES-BARRE

• Mar. 13: at Charlotte, 5-2 win
• Mar. 14: at Charlotte, 3-1 loss
• Mar. 17: vs. Hartford, 4-1 loss
• Mar. 18: vs. Hershey, 6-4 win

• Tom Kostopoulos had a big week, with the go-ahead goal on Tuesday and a total of five assists. The Penguins are lucky to have their 39-year-old captain back and healthy as they approach the end of the regular season. He's showing no signs of slowing down, with 15 points in 19 games this season.

• Sam Lafferty recorded his first professional point, an assist on Tuesday, after joining Wilkes-Barre on a tryout contract following his senior season at Brown. He has yet to score a goal in three games.

• Tom Sestito (yes, him) had two goals this week -- the lone goal in Wednesday's loss, and a goal against his favorite team, the Bears.

• Goaltender Etienne Marcoux, signed to a professional tryout agreement on Mar. 1, picked up his first AHL win against Hershey on Sunday. He is the seventh goaltender to record a win for the Penguins this season, following Casey DeSmithTristan JarrySean MaguireAnthony PetersMichael Leighton, and Colin Stevens. Five of those goaltenders have earned at least one win against Hershey this season.

• Lukas Bengtsson returned to the lineup on Sunday after being injured in the opening minutes of a game on Feb. 16. He recorded two assists in his return.

• Thomas Di Pauli came up huge on Sunday with two crucial goals. He scored a game-tying goal with a second remaining in the second period, and scored what would be the eventual game-winner in the third period.

• Defensemen Dylan Zink and Jeff Taylor were reassigned to Wheeling this week.

• Lines and defense pairings from Sunday:

Garrett Wilson - Jean-Sebastien Dea - Ryan Haggerty
Joseph Cramarossa - Jarrett Burton - Adam Johnson
Tom Sestito - Gage Quinney - Christian Thomas
Thomas Di Pauli - Teddy Blueger - Tom Kostopoulos

Chris Summers - Ethan Prow
Kevin Czuczman - Lukas Bengtsson
Jarred Tinordi - Zach Trotman

• After this week, the Penguins are still in second place in the Atlantic Division, with a .645 point percentage*, trailing the Lehigh Valley Phantoms' percentage of .697. The Providence Bruins aren't far behind, with a percentage of .633. Their magic number to make the playoffs is 17.

*The AHL standings are determined by point percentage. This is because the Pacific Division plays only 68 games (due to travel) and the rest of the league plays 76 games.

• The Penguins (37-19-4-2) will have a busy week ahead. They'll visit the Toronto Marlies (44-17-1-1) on Tuesday, and have a three-in-three over the weekend. They'll be on the road on Friday to play the Utica Comets (31-23-6-4) and Saturday to play the Binghamton Devils (21-33-7-3), then host the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (31-25-5-3) on Sunday afternoon.

• Three notable players are now eligible to join the Penguins following the conclusions of their seasons. Goaltender Alex D'Orio and forward Jan Drozg's seasons are over in the QMJHL, and defenseman Antti Palojarvi's season is over in Finland.

Even if they wouldn't be used in game action (they probably wouldn't want another goalie, for example) it is still a possibility they could join the team as Black Aces to train and practice with the team, as has been done in the past.

GOALS OF THE WEEK

Here's a look at Sprong's goal on Saturday:

Check out Teddy Blueger's speed on this goal from Sunday. He just blows past everyone on the ice:

SAVE OF THE WEEK

Anthony Peters flashed the glove on Saturday:

BEYOND THE AHL

Linus Olund, center, was the Penguins fifth round draft pick in 2017. He's spent this season in the SHL, the top Swedish league, with Brynas IF.

Olund, a native of Gavle, Sweden, is probably further along than the other members of his draft class. He was a bit of a late bloomer, and was drafted at 20 years old. When he was drafted, the Penguins saw him as a potential future two-way bottom-6 center.

"He had a really good playoff and a really good second half in the Swedish pro league," Penguins director of amateur scouting Patrik Allvin said. "Half a point per game in the playoffs and he had a key role there starting off as a fourth-line center. Really took a big step in the second half, so we're excited about him and he's going to have a big role in Brynas next year as well."

In addition to his defensive play, Olund has been praised for his hockey sense and ability to read the play. He's able to get off to a fast start in his skating, but slows down after that.

He finished the regular season seventh on Brynas IF in scoring, with eight goals and 15 assists in 51 games. He's played in Brynas IF's four playoff games so far this postseason, and has recorded a goal and two assists.

Olund turns 21 this summer, which makes it more likely that he will make the jump to Wilkes-Barre soon.

TOP PICK TRACKER

• Defenseman Zachary Lauzon (second round, 2017) played in three games with Rouyn-Noranda this week. He was scoreless, but was a combined plus-2.

• Forward Kasper Bjorkqvist (second round, 2016) and Providence College (No. 2 seed) will face No. 3 seeded Clarkson on Friday in the NCAA tournament. Earlier in the week, Providence defeated Northeastern 3-2 in overtime in the Hockey East Semifinals, and fell 2-0 to Boston University in the Hockey East Championship game. Bjorkqvist had one goal in the semifinal game.

• Defenseman Connor Hall (third round, 2016) and the Kitchener Rangers finished out the regular season. Hall was voted the third best defensive defenseman in the OHL's Western Conference in a poll among coaches. Hall did not play this week after aggravating his shoulder injury, one that will require surgery in the offseason. It isn't yet known when he will return, but he has not been shut down for the season yet.

WHEELING WATCH

I'll speak with Chris Francis, Vegas native and ECHL veteran, for his insight as Wheeling heads towards the end of the regular season.

PROSPECT FUN THING

Some of the guys recently tried curling at their practice rink, the Toyota SportsPlex. This is Lukas Bengtsson with Andrey Pedan and Zach Trotman:

What a 🥌 team🤙 @ztrotman @andreypedan

A post shared by Lukas Bengtsson (@lukasbengtsson32) on

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