- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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He arrived Friday night, took to the ice with his new teammates Saturday morning, and will play against the Atlanta Thrashers Saturday evening. After getting over the initial shock, Johnsson says he’s ready to go.
“It’s a big transition, but I’m pretty excited about the team,” Johnsson said from his new home dressing room Saturday morning. “It’s a great young team. I’m looking forward to this.”
It sounds like Hawks coach Joel Quenenville is, too. There isn’t much the he doesn’t like about his new blue liner, who comes to town a plus 20 for his career.
“You appreciate his dependability, consistency and predictability,” Quenneville said. “I think those are traits you always look for in a defenseman. He moves the puck well and plays well in his own end. He’s very useful in all aspects of this game. We like the options that he presents.”
And that starts with penalty killing. Cam Barker was not used in that department, but Johnsson will be immediately. Quenneville didn’t rule him out for the power play eventually, as well. It also changes the dynamic on defense. Previously, Quenneville was more reliant on his top four of Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell, and Niklas Hjarmalsson. With addition of the veteran Johnsson, the rotation will look different at times.
“We can go deeper into rotating three pairs or even a five-man rotation,” Quenneville said.
In other words, when called for, you might see Johnsson out there with one of those top four guys instead of his usual partner. On Saturday he’ll be paired with Jordan Hendry as Brent Sopel will sit the weekend out with a foot injury.
It also gives Quenneville the option of resting Keith and Seabrook more down the stretch. They rank second and twenty fourth in the league in ice time per game. And those minutes won’t include the pressure-filled time they get playing over the next two weeks at the Olympics. Johnsson was right behind Seabrook, ranked twenty fifth in ice time, so he can handle any workload.
“We’ll get a better handle coming out of the Olympic break and see how they’re doing with fatigue and rest,” Quenneville said of Keith and Seabrook. “And we know [Johnsson] can spell them and play against the other team’s best lines and top guys.”
Taking nothing away from Barker, it’s not something the Hawks were comfortable doing with the former number three pick in the draft. Johnsson is simply a brand new kind of option for Quenneville.
For further praise of the new Hawk, you don’t need to go any further than his former teammate, Patrick Sharp. Johnsson and Sharp played together in Philadelphia in 2003-04 and 2005-06 before Sharp was traded to the Hawks.
“I thought he was our best defenseman for years in Philadelphia and that’s saying a lot with guys like Eric Desjardins around,” Sharp said. “He kind of came into his own there in Philadelphia and he’s been a great defenseman since.”
“I just remember he was one of the good guys on the team,” Sharp continued. “As far as [me] being a rookie and coming into the league it can be tough with a veteran lineup. He was always one of those guys that went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable and I’ll always remember that.”
Hearing that makes you believe the transition to a new dressing room with new teammates and personalities wont be a big deal for the 10-year veteran.
“Hockey teams are all the same, all over,” Johnsson said. “It’s a great bunch of guys and you fit in pretty easily. The mentality is pretty much the same. You have to play the best you can and fit in.”
As for on the ice, Johnsson feels his game fits the Hawks like a glove.
“Skating game, puck moving game,” Johnsson said. “That’s probably my biggest strength and hopefully that’s what I’ll bring to this team.”
In Minnesota under former coach Jacque Lemaire’s trapping style, Johnsson’s offensive game wasn’t on display like it had been in Philadelphia. He believes it will return with the speedy and skilled Hawks.
“You can join the rush more but you can’t be stupid about it,” Johnsson said.
Kim Johnsson more than remembers being on the winning end of the Hawks biggest third period collapse in team history when the Wild overcame a 5-1 deficit to win 6-5 back on January 9. “That was a fun game coming back like that, but it’s not something I’m thinking about right now,” Johnsson said.
Kim Johnsson expects to fit in immediately in the Hawks dressing room.