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Blackhawks prospect Johns working back into rhythm

For Blackhawks prospect and Rockford IceHogs defenseman Stephen Johns, there wasn’t any worry his almost two months out of the lineup with an upper-body injury would stunt his development. He knows that “everyone” gets injured at one point or another, and at 22 he still has plenty of time to grow despite missing a large chunk of his first full professional season.

But that doesn’t mean he embraced the time away. Johns said Saturday the games he missed were his first in six years, which was “the most frustrating thing part about it” for the Hawks’ second-round pick in the 2010 draft.

“There’s always injuries. Guys always have injuries,” Johns said. “You deal with them and you get over them and hopefully come out of them stronger.”

The IceHogs and Blackhawks want that too for a player who figures to have a bright NHL future.

Before getting injured Nov. 26 against the Iowa Wild, Johns was establishing himself as one of the AHL’s best rookie defensemen. In 20 games he had six assists and a plus-11 rating for Rockford, which has perhaps the deepest corps of blue liners in the league.

Now back in the lineup, Johns is trying to restore that rhythm. On Friday against Iowa, Johns was a plus-2 with three shots on goal and didn’t appear to have been bothered much by the time away.

“It was great. We were looking forward to getting him back,” IceHogs coach Ted Dent said before Saturday’s game. “He’s a big piece of the puzzle.”

Saturday, however, wasn’t as strong for Johns. He had a shot on goal but his defensive-zone pass from along the boards to the center of the ice was picked off by Magnus Paajarvi, who beat Michael Leighton to give the Wolves a first-period lead in a game the IceHogs ended up winning 3-2 in a shootout.

Though he didn’t say it in regards to that play, Johns conceded “there’s always going to be a little rust when you get out of competition a little bit.”

“It’s a lot different than just skating, getting back into condition,” Johns said. “But it feels great to be back with the boys and we’ve strung together a few wins here so it’s even more fun. I’m just glad to be back and playing the sport I love. It was very frustrating.”