DALLAS – Stephen Johns headed into last summer thinking about his potential shot at making the Blackhawks roster.
The defenseman suffered a broken forearm at the end of the Rockford IceHogs’ playoff run last spring, but he was ready for the fall. Then in July came the surprise: he was traded to the Dallas Stars as part of the Patrick Sharp deal.
“All of a sudden my life changed on a dime,” said Johns. “It was a little bit of a whirlwind at first, didn’t know what to think or what to feel. I let it settle in for a few days, came to Dallas for a couple of days and I honestly couldn’t be more excited to be part of this organization.”
That excitement level is that much higher now as Johns prepares to make his NHL debut — against the team that traded him.
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Johns, recalled from the Texas Stars on Wednesday, will be in the Stars’ lineup when they host the Blackhawks on Friday night. The 23-year-old defenseman is getting a chance to help the Stars, who are missing defensemen Jason Demers (shoulder), John Klingberg and Jordie Benn (both lower body).
“Great opportunity for him,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “You realize his first game there’ll be some nerves involved. His former team; it’s ironic how things have worked out. But he’s played very well in Texas and we need him to step in and play well because we’re counting pretty heavily on three of our younger D to help us keep this thing moving forward.”
Johns has had a good season with the Stars’ AHL squad, recording four goals and 20 assists in 55 games. He said the Rockford and Texas systems are similar, so the transition was relatively smooth. On Friday, Johns will likely pair with fellow former Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya — “we look at Johnny as one of our best defenders, and that gives us a guy who can supply a little offense and then you have a solid defender there with you,” Ruff said.
It’s heady stuff, but Johns has been preparing for this moment for some time.
“Yeah, it’s a process,” he said. “I’m still young. I knew it was going to happen eventually. I just had to wait my turn. Unfortunately some injuries up here happened but you have to take advantage of the opportunity, and I hope those guys get back soon. I’m just trying to be here as long as I can and try to play my game.”
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Johns had nothing but good things to say about the Blackhawks, stating, “they treated me well from the time I got drafted to the time I got traded. It’s a class-act organization.” Still, won’t it be strange to make your NHL debut against them?
“It doesn’t matter who I get my first game against. I just want to play in the NHL and play for a long time. It just so happens to be against the Hawks, which is pretty rare,” he said. “It’s pretty funny, but I’ll be excited for sure.”
Johns will have family at tomorrow’s game — his parents, brother and sister will all be here. For a kid out of the small town of Ellwood City, Penn. (population approximately 7,700) tomorrow will be special.
“I think that was the coolest part of it all was just seeing everyone’s reaction, seeing the support from my friends, my family, my community back home,” Johns said. “I come from a small place, so when something like that happens, it’s a big deal. To see their support and how much they’ve been following me, it’s unbelievable.”