Penguins call-up Adam Johnson to rely on speed in NHL debut in Nashville
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When most call-ups are set to make their NHL debuts, they have to prove they can keep up with the speed of the NHL game.
That shouldn’t be a problem for Pittsburgh Penguins winger Adam Johnson. As he prepares to face the Nashville Predators on Thursday night, he knows speed is the name of his game.
His skating ability is what attracted the Penguins to Johnson when they signed him as an undrafted free agent after two years at Minnesota-Duluth. His speed carried him to 18 goals and 40 points in 63 AHL games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season.
“That’s obviously my biggest asset is my speed, so I hope that translates well,” Johnson said. “Just try to play a solid defensive game, a solid 200-foot game and do what I can to contribute.”
Conversely, what Johnson will have to prove is that he can stand up to the physical rigors of the NHL game. He’s listed at 6-foot, 175 pounds.
“Obviously guys are big and strong in the AHL as well, but probably a little bit more so here,” Johnson said. “It’s probably going to be an adjustment, but I think I’ll be able to handle it all right.”
Johnson was on the left side of the fourth line with Matt Cullen and Garrett Wilson during morning skate, taking the place of Joseph Blandisi, who was sent down Wednesday.
Blandisi didn’t struggle in a five-game call-up, but he didn’t make a positive impact either. The Penguins hope Johnson can provide more of a spark.
“He’s a guy that can help our overall team speed,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s really good on the forecheck. We know he’ll bring a lot of energy being his first NHL game. I know he’s excited to play. He’s played extremely well for Wilkes-Barre. He has good offensive instincts. We think he can help us in a lot of ways. He’s a good penalty killer. There’s a number of different ways we can utilize him.”
Johnson will have to make a transition that many call-ups face, moving from top-line duty in the AHL to limited ice time on the fourth line in the NHL. He’s no Daniel Sprong, though. He has enough of an all-around game to contribute even when he’s not in a scoring situation.
‘It’s one I’m comfortable making,” Johnson said. “As long as I can help the team win here, I’d love to do it.”
While most call-ups play their first NHL game during a relatively low-stakes spot on the calendar, Johnson will make his debut with eight games left in the regular season. His father, mother and brother made the trip in from Minnesota to see it.
“It’s kind of a unique time,” Johnson said. “They’re kind of in a good playoff push here. I hope I can jump in and try to help with that push and move up the standings and do what I can.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .