Oilers give Johnson chance to shine

Aaron Johnson has fit in well on the Oilers revamped blueline.(JASON FRANSON/EDMONTON SUN).

Aaron Johnson has fit in well on the Oilers revamped blueline.(JASON FRANSON/EDMONTON SUN).

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:33 PM ET

All Aaron Johnson wanted was a chance.

Caught in a numbers game behind a litany of talented defencemen with the Calgary Flames, the native of Port Hawkesbury, N.S., felt he never got a real opportunity to show what he was capable of.

He’s now getting that chance with the Edmonton Oilers and will be back in the lineup when they host the Ottawa Senators tonight (7:30 p.m.) at Rexall Place.

“You would think a lot of guys would be disappointed to be traded to a last-place team, but I was extremely excited,” Johnson said. “It was an easy move for me just to come up the highway. It is a good opportunity for me to prove myself and try to earn a job.

“I’ve seen enough guys that probably should be in the NHL, they just haven’t had the opportunity. Anytime you can get an opportunity, you just have to take advantage of it, because it’s not going to last forever.”

Johnson, 26, was acquired from the Flames for veteran Steve Staios and a conditional third-round draft pick (either this year or next year).

He’s played well in his two games with the Oilers. In Sunday’s win over the New Jersey Devils only the top pairing of Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney earned more ice time.

“He’s got a little edge to him,” said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn. “It looks like he’s willing to work hard and he does a good job of protecting the front of his net. For a guy that hasn’t played a lot, I’m impressed with the start he’s had with us. He’s fit in well here. He’s been strong and he seems team orientated, and so far he’s showed well with us.”

Originally taken in the third round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Johnson has bounced around the league.

He spent the parts of three seasons with the Blue Jackets before moving on to play with the New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks and eventually ending up in Calgary.

He played just 22 games with the Flames this season as one of the team's extra defenceman, collecting a goal and three assists.

“They already had seven guys when I was traded there,” Johnson said. “It was just a matter of keep working and waiting until I got the opportunity. A lot of teams have their six guys set and it’s not going to change too much. They’ve had guys that have been with the organization for years now and they’re going to be loyal to those guys.”

At the start of the season, the Flames were boasting one of the best blue lines in the league with Robyn Regehr, Jay Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf in the mix.

It hasn’t exactly panned out that way and Phaneuf, once considered untouchable in Calgary, was eventually traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Regardless, Johnson was still not able to get a foothold with the Flames and was traded just prior to the deadline for a veteran with an ability to block shots

“That happens in all organizations,” Quinn said. “It’s not just the draft where you develop players. Teams make decisions for whatever reasons and guys get a chance to develop somewhere else that may have been shoved aside by another team. Calgary’s defence was pretty strong at the start of the season, so a guy like him might not have got that opportunity at the time he needed it for his development.”

If Johnson is to make a good impression, he doesn’t have much time to do it. His contract expires at the end of the year.

“So far, I’m feeling pretty good. It’s been a while since I’ve been in some game situations, so I’m trying to take it step-by-step and keep it simple,” he said. “I just want to go out there and play. There is not a lot of pressure on us out there, so we’re just trying to go out there and prove ourselves. We all know there are going to be changes here next year and all lot of guys want to be a part of this team.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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