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Johnson's lone goal

Veteran center man's focus is on making Wings' roster

Monday, 09.12.2011 / 4:32 PM ET / News
By Bill Roose  - DetroitRedWings.com
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Johnson\'s lone goal
Ryan Johnson (17) was a valuable fourth-line center for Chicago last season. He'd like to be that for the Red Wings this season. (Getty Images)
DETROIT – With players departing for training camp later this week, Ryan Johnson is hoping to show the Red Wings that they can’t do without the 35-year-old free agent center.

Johnson is a veteran of 13 NHL seasons and the younger brother of former Wings center Greg Johnson (1993-97). The Wings signed Ryan Johnson to a professional tryout (PTO) this summer, and is main focus now is on cracking Detroit’s already stacked roster of NHL-caliber forwards.

“As the summer went on, we were talking to a group of different teams, and had some opportunities to go to some different places, but the respect that I have for this organization, and the expectation that comes with this team every year – this is an exciting opportunity for me,” Johnson said. “I’ve played a long time and haven’t won and that’s really the only reason I play, so to try and earn a job here and be a part of the tradition is very, very important to me.”

Johnson was signed to a free agent contract by Chicago last December, and played 34 games for the Blackhawks, scoring a goal with five assists mainly as a fourth line contributor.

“I played a big role, played a lot of minutes in Chicago,” he said. “And we were a goal away from beating a team (Vancouver) that went on and almost won it all, so yeah, I played a lot and take a lot of pride in a lot of the little things in the game that I feel help win hockey games, such as winning face-offs, working on the penalty-kill and blocking shots.”

Certainly, Johnson’s biggest attributes were on the Blackhawks’ penalty-kill and in the face-off circle, where he led the team with a 63.1 percent face-off win percentage. He was also fifth amongst Chicago forwards with 34 blocks.

“It’s something that I realized early in my career, the more things that you can add to your game then the more of an asset you’ll be to a team,” said Johnson, about winning face-offs. “I began working on it in junior and really spent a lot of time zoning in on really trying to win every single draw that I go in and take.

“With today’s game, so much of it is about possession that anytime that you can start with the puck it sets the tone for your entire shift. Now with the new rule change, it’s kind of made (good center man) ultra important on every face-off. Starting off with the puck in your own zone is huge.”

However, Johnson, like follow PTO signee Fabian Brunnstrom, finds himself in a numbers game. The Wings have four forwards vying for three, maybe four roster spots.

But Johnson isn’t keen on playing in Grand Rapids, the Wings’ American Hockey League affiliate. It’s either the Wings’ roster or bust.

“I’ve come here to play,” said Johnson, who isn’t looking toward the AHL as an option.

“I think the expectation for me, the excitement for me, is that I don’t have to come in here and try to do anything that’s not me as a player,” Johnson said. “They’re familiar with me as a player, and they’ve invited me here as a player for that reason, so if I go out and do the things that made me a hockey player in this league, and have given me longevity in this league, then I’ve put the ball in their hands to make a tough decision. … Then we’ll see what happens.”

Johnson hopes that the Wings will be his sixth NHL stint, joining past stops in Florida (twice), Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Vancouver. But Detroit is certainly a hockey town that he is quite accustom to since the times he used to travel from Thunder Bay, Ontario, to watch his older brother, Greg, play at Joe Louis Arena.

“Obviously, Greg had moved on to other teams by the time I came into the league,” said Ryan Johnson, who has 38 goals and 84 assists in 701 career NHL games. “But I’ve been in this division with St. Louis for a long time, and Chicago last year, so I’m quite familiar to Joe Louis and this hockey team for the amount of time that I’ve been playing here as a visitor.

“It’s an honor to be invited by an organization like this. Now it’s up to me to show that I can help this team win hockey games.”

NOTEBOOK: The Wings held an earlier informal practice at JLA Monday, to accommodate a large contingent of players, who were playing in the 11th annual Celebrity Golf Outing at Wabeek Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. The event, hosted by Wings legend and hockey hall of famer, Ted Lindsay, raises money for research to fight Autism. … A funeral Mass for former Wings assistant coach Brad McCrimmon is scheduled for Saturday at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Farmington, Mich. McCrimmon was among 44 people killed last week when the jetliner carrying a KHL hockey team crash shortly after takeoff in Russia.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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