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Penguins

Defenseman Jack Johnson assesses situation week into Penguins tenure

Jonathan Bombulie
| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, 6:54 p.m.
The Penguins’ Jack Johnson defends on Phil Kessel during the first day of camp Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins’ Jack Johnson defends on Phil Kessel during the first day of camp Friday, Sept. 14, 2018 at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

A week into the first training camp of his Penguins career, defenseman Jack Johnson is learning about the similarities and differences between life with his new team and life at his old home in the Columbus area.

A similarity: Johnson doesn’t have to find a new supermarket to frequent. He’s already familiar with Giant Eagle and Whole Foods, chains whose geographical footprints cover Ohio as well.

A difference: He needed to find new spots to get his haircut and eat sushi. He leaned on his teammates, including prep-school pal Sidney Crosby, for recommendations.

Those situations, of course, are common to anyone who moves one state over. Where it really gets interesting for Johnson is when he notes the similarities and differences when it comes to his professional life.

A huge difference: The first few days of training camp.

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is known to run perhaps the most grueling training camp in the league. It opens with a 2-mile run that players are expected to complete in 12 minutes or less. The first few days on the ice are notoriously tough as well.

Johnson was diplomatic when asked about his memories of Camp Torts.

Did he enjoy it? Not really, but he has no particular grievances he wishes to air.

“They’re real tough. You just try to get through,” Johnson said. “You’re training for hockey, and you get thrown into stuff like those runs and stuff. They don’t necessarily translate into how you’re playing or how hockey is. You just go out and do them and just get through it. It’s fine.”

The first few days of Mike Sullivan’s camps also are tough, Johnson was quick to point out. There’s fitness testing the day before players take the ice for the first time, and the first few practice sessions come complete with skates designed to put players’ conditioning to the test.

“You got two coaches that are pretty similar in philosophies,” Johnson said. “In Columbus, I don’t think you touched a puck for the first few days. Here, we got out there right away and started practicing. We just got our conditioning in a different way. That’s really it.”

Another big difference: Johnson’s defense partner.

In Columbus, Johnson was primarily paired with David Savard for most of the past two seasons. The duo had great success together two years ago, with Johnson posting a career-best plus-23 rating, before fizzling out a bit last season.

Savard is a sturdy, 6-foot-2, 227-pounder who led Blue Jackets defensemen in hits last season.

Through the first week of training camp with the Penguins, Johnson usually has been paired with Justin Schultz, an offensive defenseman with a different skill set.

On the surface, that looks like a big change for Johnson. With Savard, he could be the more adventurous defenseman of the pair. With Schultz, he might have to be the more conservative one.

He doesn’t really look at it that way, however.

“You don’t go into it thinking you have to change your game,” Johnson said. “You learn each other’s tendencies and that’s how you grow together as a pair. When I was playing with Savard, you learn his tendencies, and certain things happen in a game and you kind of know what to do. With Justin, if we end up staying together, you do the same thing. You kind of grow as time goes on.”

That leads to one of the biggest similarities Johnson has noticed as he transitions to a new team: The Penguins want him to be himself, just like the Blue Jackets did.

Johnson’s greatest attributes as a player are probably his physical gifts. He’s a solid 6-1, 227, and he skates extraordinarily well for a man his size.

No matter what jersey he wears or supermarket he shops, those are the strengths he needs to play to.

“I think they’re going to want me to join the offense as much as I can,” Johnson said. “I think that’s just kind of the way the league is now. It’s kind of more suited to my style of play. I’ve always been a guy that wants to skate and go. I’m sure it will be fun.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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