Blackhawks turn to Reese Johnson to fill Ryan Carpenter’s shoes
With Carpenter in Calgary and Johnson finally recovered from his broken clavicle, the Hawks have a new fourth-line center for the rest of this season.
LOS ANGELES — Reese Johnson has recovered at the perfect time.
With Ryan Carpenter traded Monday to the Flames, the Blackhawks have turned to Johnson to fill Carpenter’s role as the fourth-line center and a penalty-killing specialist.
And Johnson, who returned last Saturday after missing more than three months while recovering from a broken right clavicle, is healthy and ready for the challenge.
‘‘Every day is a chance to prove something, whether it’s to the [general manager], coaches, fans, other teams,’’ Johnson said this week. ‘‘It’s a privilege to play in this league, so [I’m] looking forward to it.’’
Johnson credited Carpenter for helping him to ‘‘develop into the player I am right now,’’ teaching him valuable lessons about faceoffs and consistency. But at 23, he has a better chance to fit into the Hawks’ future than the 31-year-old Carpenter did.
‘‘I know we’ve been talking about the rebuild a lot lately, and I think I can be a big part of that,’’ he said. ‘‘A lot of the young guys around here are excited for the opportunity we have. We’re looking to build this thing.’’
Johnson’s regular playing time in the fall was somewhat surprising, considering his lack of production in the American Hockey League in previous years and initially poor results in the NHL. The Hawks were outscored 5-0 and had a 24.6% scoring-chance ratio during Johnson’s even-strength ice time in his first seven games this season.
But he improved substantially once he got into a rhythm. The Hawks outscored opponents 4-2 and enjoyed a 56.6% scoring-chance ratio during his even-strength ice time in appearances No. 8 to No. 18 until his injury Dec. 11 against the Maple Leafs.
Interim coach Derek King is hoping to see a similar pattern from Johnson this spring. His scoring-chance ratio was an awful 17.6% Wednesday and Thursday against the Ducks and Kings, although he dished out 12 hits and engaged in a fight. If he can calm down some, however, he could be a viable fourth-line center.
‘‘He’s trying to do everything,’’ King said. ‘‘[It’s his] first time back up with us. He wants to make a good impression, but he’s working too hard. He’s got to be patient. . . . He finishes his checks, but then sometimes he forces it. He’s chasing the guy all over the ice, trying to bang a body or do something, where he just needs to play the game right and play smart.’’
Johnson seems to recognize that.
‘‘One of the biggest [things I’m working on] is just calmness on the ice,’’ he said. ‘‘With my role, it’s tough to stay calm in situations. But there’s a time when you’ve got to dial it up and get on the forecheck and finish checks, [and] there’s also times when you’ve got to possess the puck and stay patient with it.’’
Forward Taylor Raddysh already looks like a smart find for GM Kyle Davidson.
The key acquisition in the Brandon Hagel trade has four points in his first four games with the Hawks and is riding a three-game points streak.
Although Hagel notched his first point for the Lightning on Thursday, Raddysh has looked like an adequate replacement so far. His ice time has gone from 11:03 per game with the Lightning to 15:35 with the Hawks, and his shots-per-game rate has gone from 1.15 with the Lightning to 2.5 with the Hawks.