Stephen Johns set to make NHL debut vs. Blackhawks


Stephen Johns set to make NHL debut vs. Blackhawks

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.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans]

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.”

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch


Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.