DALLAS — It’s one thing to make your NHL debut. It’s another thing to make your NHL debut against the team that drafted you and developed you. Throw in the fact that the Blackhawks and Dallas Stars were playing for first place, and, well, you could understand why Stephen Johns was feeling a little amped up on Friday morning.
“It’s hard to put into words,” said Johns, a defenseman and Notre Dame graduate. “Finally fulfilling your dream, accomplishing a goal you set years ago. There’s no greater feeling than what I’m going to feel in a couple of hours.”
Johns was drafted by the Hawks in the second round of the 2010 draft. Just how long has he been waiting for this moment? When the Hawks included him in the Patrick Sharp trade with Dallas, Johns was gearing up for his sixth Hawks prospect camp. This was supposed to be the year he finally cracked the Hawks lineup. Instead, it took him nearly all season to do it for the Stars, whose blue line has been decimated by injuries. John Klingberg, Jason Demers and Jordie Benn all missed Friday’s game, and Demers could be out for the season with a shoulder injury.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff wasn’t sure what he’d get out of Johns in his debut.
“It’s something you’e dreamed of all your life,” Ruff said. “I’ve seen players play great games, I’ve seen players not be able to play at all. It’s a little bit of a crapshoot.”
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said the organization was very high on Johns before the trade.
“Big kid, plays hard, physical,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a tremendous shot. I don’t want to see it too much tonight.”
Johns tried to downplay the former-team factor, saying that his NHL debut will give him plenty of “juice” on its own.
“Look, it’s my first NHL game,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter who I’m playing against. It’s a dream come true in itself, and it just so happens to be against the Hawks.”