‘Not much else to say’ about how Wyatt Johnston continues to shine for the Stars

DALLAS — After the Stars beat the Kraken 4-2 Thursday night in Game 2 to tie the series 1-1, head coach Pete DeBoer and forward Tyler Seguin were puzzled.

The reason? Wyatt Johnson.

“First of all, I’m going to take a little tangent,” DeBoer said. “I don’t understand why he’s not nominated for the Calder. Twenty-four regular season goals and what he did. And how Miro Heiskanen is not nominated for the Norris. But that’s my own little tangent sidebar.

The 19-year-old Stars rookie capped his first NHL playoff series last week by scoring a goal – which seemed a long time coming – in Game 6. Johnston had a solid streak against the Wild and had plenty of chances who have not t translated on the score sheet with a goal until the decisive series. To top off this series with a purpose to show for its efforts, it felt like a fitting ending.

In reality, it was only the beginning.

“That was awesome,” Johnston said of his Game 6 goal at Minnesota. “It was a bit of a relief to get rid of the first one. At the end of the day, I want to do my best to participate and help the team. Whatever needs to be done to help the team, that’s what I try to do. It was definitely a confidence boost to be able to help on the scoreboard.

Johnston and the Stars advanced to face the Kraken, who have Calder’s favorite this season in Matty Beniers. On Wednesday, the NHL announced Calder’s three finalists. Beniers was on the list, as were Edmonton goaltender Stuart Skinner and Buffalo defenseman Owen Power. Johnston, who tied with Beniers for the rookie lead in regular-season goals scored with 24 and was fourth among rookies in points with 41, didn’t make the cut.

“He keeps doing it every night,” DeBoer said. “He does it in different ways. Big goal tonight in front of the net. He is also excellent defensively, he is absent with the goalkeeper in the last two minutes of the match, he kills the penalties for us. Not much else to say. Just a great young player who (I’m) excited to see what he’s capable of becoming.

In the opener, Johnston nearly became a savior. He had a chance late in the third period to break the 4-4 tie and potentially win the Stars and save Joe Pavelski’s four-goal effort. But his shot from close range with 26 seconds left in regulation time hit Philipp Grubauer in the chest and swung out of harm’s way. The Kraken eventually won in overtime. If there was any curiosity as to how Johnston would react to back-to-back days of missed chances and then be kicked off the Calder sheet, he put that to bed pretty emphatically.

Johnston was not only the best player on the ice, he was also the most consistent. Johnston opened the scoring with a bold goal in front of the net. For someone of his stature and age, especially with the added intensity of the playoffs, it can be difficult to get into those tough spots among many big bodies scrambling for position. Johnston simply calmly passed the puck around the perimeter and headed for the crevice, where he quickly cleaned up Colin Miller’s rebound for the game’s first goal.

After Johnston scored, the AAC crowd went wild. Max Domi threw his fists in the air in jubilation, and Seguin sped away as the celebration took place. Johnston raised both hands for a hot second, then positioned himself along the boards. His mouthpiece was hanging out of his mouth and he looked like he was pacing the ice. As his teammates approached him in celebration, he let out a quick “Let’s go” and welcomed them into his arms.

Calm among the chaos.

“For me, I try to do my best to stay neutral, not go too high, not go too low,” Johnston said. “I think in the long run it helps a lot. Just stay neutral and don’t focus on the past or the future. Just stay in the moment, stay calm and don’t rush.

Johnston’s demeanor is perhaps his greatest asset. He is the perfect mix of confidence but not arrogance. He doesn’t allow past mistakes or missed opportunities, like Game 1 luck, to become his downfall, but he does his part to learn from them. He knows what lies ahead, but manages to not only stay in the moment on a game-to-game basis, but practically on a shift basis.

“It’s critical,” DeBoer said of Johnston’s behavior. “A lot is happening there. His personality is the same way he plays. He never seems to panic. He always knows what is happening around him. He never rushes to get to the next place or rushes to make the next play when he doesn’t have to. His personality is the same as that. It’s a great trait to have.

Johnston’s goal came less than four minutes into the second period. With less than four minutes left in the period, the Stars were on the power play. Johnston came out in a fire with the puck on his stick. His first puck attempt is completely missed. Johnston stayed with it, turned around and tried to get the puck into the net. Grubauer was there to make the save but Pavelski was also there to clean him up and score what ended up becoming the winning goal.

“It was pretty cool to be able to have an assist on his goal,” Johnston said. “Just a cool moment.”

To drive home Johnston’s impact and overall play, although he scored one goal and scored another, arguably his best change of the game came after scoring his goal. Johnston flew all over the ice, making solid plays offensively and defensively.

The Stars did everything in their power to ensure Johnston’s success. On the ice, he started the season teaming up with Jamie Benn, who has been the roster’s most consistent personal element. Off the ice, Johnston lives in Pavelski’s house. Their relationship goes well beyond a simple roommate dynamic.

“We like to talk through games,” Johnston said. “Talk about what we saw, what we felt, try to reflect on the game a bit, watch the highlights… We definitely talk about it. I try to listen to him and learn from all his experience.

DeBoer, who saw Pavelski excel as a leader when Pavelski was captain in San Jose during DeBoer’s tenure as Sharks head coach, sees an even bigger picture at stake with what Johnston is experiencing off the ice. .

“They’re an interesting pair,” DeBoer said. “It’s fun to watch because Wyatt is just starting his career and Joe has done everything but win a Cup. Joe understands the importance of messaging and what it teaches Wyatt. I think Wyatt is going to appreciate that on the road, probably a lot more than he does now. He’s a pretty smart kid, but I think he’s going to really get it in 10 years when he looks back and says, ‘Wow, I had lucky to be in this situation with this guy.’

Pavelski’s fingerprints are all over the Stars. His leadership spans the entire roster and his impact on the ice is evident in players like Seguin who scored another goal Thursday for his fifth in the playoffs. But Johnston is Pavelski’s favorite project, on and off the ice, and that helps a lot.

“I don’t know what they’re eating in the Pavelski house right now, but it’s working,” Seguin said. “Ms. Pavelski makes good food or something because they’re buzzing. Johnny had a ton of opportunities in that first round, probably should have had a few more and still looked great tonight.

For his part, Johnston was asked about the Calder run before the playoffs started. Her answer sounded cliché but she was honest.

“At the end of the day, my goal this year was just to come in, be a contributor and help the Stars win games,” Johnston said. “At the end of the day, that’s my goal. I’d much rather win a lot of games and win a Stanley Cup than win personal awards. »

With 11:29 remaining in the game, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” roared at the AAC as game ops showed Johnston on the big screen. On the ultimate hockey stage, while sharing the ice with players from both sides who have seen and done so much, the spotlight was shone on a 19-year-old who was playing junior hockey a year ago. Whether the rest of the league joins in the fun to recognize Johnston or not, Dallas knows what’s inside of him. It’s good enough for the Stars.

(Photo of Wyatt Johnston scoring in the second half: Jerome Miron/USA Today)

Leave a Comment