The Pittsburgh Penguins have one of the NHL’s most talented teams, yet Jack Johnson continues to see major playing time despite his poor performance.
You don’t like him. I don’t like him. We’re pretty sure the coach doesn’t like him either. A rookie who signed his ELC on August 8th outpaced his ice time in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ most recent game. As did a second-year player who has played five total games – including two where he skated as a forward. So, why is Jack Johnson still on the Pittsburgh Penguins?
There are a lot of possible answers here, so let’s break some of them down.
The team actually likes him.
Haha, sorry, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. I want to specify that I mean as a hockey player. There is no doubt in my mind this team likes Jack as a person. He and Sidney Crosby go back close to 20 years. He seems like a nice person. What I mean here is that they like how he plays. They don’t see him as a liability. Which, in both cases, is categorically false.
Take, for example, a moment we have all heard about by now, from last Spring. Coach Sullivan was going over the tape and asking his players to identify issues in a broken play where a defender (in this instance Chad Ruhwedel) was behind his own net with the puck and no route to a pass. Sullivan asked his players what Chad was supposed to do there. Evgeni Malkin, now famously, said that he was an NHL player and he can skate it out from behind the net. And in Ruhwedel’s case, he can.
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But let’s not kid around, the coach used Chad as an example – the player who really got stuck behind the net all alone most was Jack Johnson. And it led to odd-man rushes because his teammates would often assume he could handle, you know playing ice hockey.
We know the team doesn’t really want this player around anymore – no matter how much Jim Rutherford tries to deny reports from well-respected and connected folks.
Injuries have made them do it
The injury situation for the Penguins is honestly comical at this point. Again. Thanks to many guys being out for large swaths of this still-young season, no one could be tied to JJ and shipped out. While this actually hasn’t been a death sentence (the injuries). And the IR stint may have saved the team trading one of their hottest players right now (Rust) it’s probably the real reason. When you don’t have anyone healthy and can’t get through a game without at least one injury, that’s not when you are in the position to trade an extra asset to unload a bad deal. So the injuries, in essence, saved Rutherford from himself.
Rookie John Marino is buoying Johnson now, making him look like he can hang at the NHL level and the team is getting healthy. So don’t be surprised if the Penguins swing a deal soon to drop Johnson and if at all possible, add a scoring threat on the PP to help fill the Phil Kessel-sized gap.
And in answer to your “why not just keep him and play him with Marino” question – because they’re going to need that cap space to fill the gap they have on their top PP, he really is pretty bad, and Juuso Riikola is just sitting around waiting to play.