Penguins have paired Jack Johnson, Justin Schultz again
Jack Johnson was where he thought he’d be Thursday morning.
Not Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Not the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Not any of the NHL’s other 30 corporate-monikered confines.
And definitely not Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre.
(Or a surplus Saturn-V rocket aimed at the sun as suggested by an abundance of amateur aerospace engineers on Twitter.)
He was at PPG Paints Arena when the Penguins took the ice for the morning skate to prepare for their season-opening contest against the Buffalo Sabres.
Throughout the summer and the early stages of autumn, his name was connected to several would-be transactions which could have relieved the Penguins of his salary cap hit of $3.25 million. Most of those with an interest in the Penguins read and digested them.
Johnson was not one of them.
“I’ve gone through it before,” Johnson said. “It’s nothing new. It goes with the territory. I wasn’t worried about it all summer. I was training hard getting ready for Game 1 anticipating this day, being here. I’m excited to get going.”
A former first-round pick (No. 3 overall in 2005), Johnson learned to ignore outside speculation or criticism during the embryonic days of his NHL career with the Los Angeles Kings.
“Yeah, pretty early on,” he said. “There’s always going to be noise going on. I’ve never been a social media guy or anything, so I don’t usually hear this stuff anyways, nor do I care. Unless somebody within the organization comes and tells you something, there’s no point in listening.”
“I just think it’s the reality of our business,” said coach Mike Sullivan. “I don’t think our city is any different than any other NHL city. There’s always going to be someone that’s involved in trade speculation. The approach we have with our players is we’re very straightforward. We don’t really overly concern ourselves with what you guys think or do or say. We know what’s going on inside of our dressing room. We’re concerned with ourselves. We have a transparent relationship with our players and that’s how we approach it.”
Few of Johnson’s teammates can appreciate that perspective better than Justin Schultz. During his time as a highly touted but ultimately disappointing prospect with the Edmonton Oilers, Schultz was routinely razed by critics for falling well short of the Norris Trophy-caliber performances Oilers management suggested he was capable of.
“I try to stay off Twitter and all that stuff,” Schultz said. “Our team does a pretty good job of ignoring that and just going out there and playing. And that’s what we need in a pretty big market like this.”
Johnson and Schultz skated with one another during the morning skate. They practiced with each other during the final two days of training camp and played with one another last season after Schultz recovered from a left leg fracture he suffered in October. But they were rarely paired during the preseason. In fact, Johnson spent much of the camp on a fourth pairing with reserve defenseman Chad Ruhwedel while Schultz skated regularly with Marcus Pettersson.
Regardless, they feel they developed a lasting chemistry last season.
“A tremendous amount of trust in him,” Johnson said. “That’s the biggest thing. A good partnership is based on trust on the ice. I just know where he’s going to be. He’s great at handling the puck which also helps us get our of our own end and into the offensive end.”
“We’re pretty comfortable with each other,” Schultz said. “We played a lot last year when I came back.
“He’s smart defensively. I know if I’m jumping up, I know he’s always going to be back there. It makes it really easy to play with a guy like that.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .