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Penguins

Penguins reportedly will sign defenseman Jack Johnson to 5-year deal

Jonathan Bombulie
| Wednesday, June 27, 2018, 5:54 p.m.
The Penguins' Eric Fehr fights for the puck with the Blue Jackets' Jack Johnson in the first period Friday, Feb. 3, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Eric Fehr fights for the puck with the Blue Jackets' Jack Johnson in the first period Friday, Feb. 3, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

That salary cap space that the Penguins saved in the trade that sent Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick to the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday afternoon? General manager Jim Rutherford already has plans for it.

According to a report by Tribune-Review columnist Mark Madden of 105.9 FM, the Penguins have reached an agreement on a five-year contract with free agent defenseman Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Teams are allowed to discuss contracts in general terms during the week leading up to the start of the free-agent signing period Sunday at noon. Computer-model projections have pegged Johnson's salary on a five-year deal between $3 and $4 million annually.

Johnson is coming off a poor season in Columbus. He had three goals, 11 points and a minus-6 rating in 78 regular-season games, then was a healthy scratch in the playoffs. He was much more effective the year before, recording five goals, 23 points and a plus-23 rating in 82 games.

"I've always thought he fit in there. He was a real steady guy," an NHL scout said. "He was on the second pair, where he should be. I have to assume (being scratched in the playoffs) would have been a coach thing because he played pretty well and was pretty steady.

"I think early on in his career, he tried to do too much. There, I thought he was pretty steady. If you get this guy and you're able to put him where he belongs, he's a pretty effective player."

Signing Johnson would give Rutherford the balance on the defense that he has craved since the Penguins were eliminated by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the playoffs. Rutherford said this week that he hoped to construct a defense corps in which Kris Letang's minutes could be limited to around 24 per game.

The 6-foot-1, 227-pound Johnson has always been known as a strong skater with high-end offensive skill and physicality. He's never been a puck-possession standout, failing to top 50 percent in shot-attempt percentage in any of his 11 seasons in the NHL.

Johnson is a close friend of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby from their time at Shattuck St. Mary's prep school in Minnesota. Rutherford drafted Johnson when he was GM in Carolina with the third pick of the 2005 draft.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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