Offensive blueline King in the offing

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Most NHL rookies treat the puck like a live grenade.

Young players, not wanting to make a mistake, have a tendency to get rid of it at any opportunity.

But not Los Angeles Kings freshman Jack Johnson.

He wants to carry the puck. He wants to skate through the zones, create offence and make something happen.

"It's not wanting to be a boring, shoot-it-off-the-glass defenceman," Johnson said. "The game's more fun when you can play both ends of the ice.

"Growing up, I figured out at an early age I didn't want to be a stay-at-home defenceman -- to me that's boring, at least personally -- so I love to be up in the rush and joining the attack.

"My focus now for the team is to play good defence, and hopefully the offensive game will come later on."

Rest assured, it will.

Johnson, who celebrated his 21st birthday last month, was chosen third overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft for his two-way ability.

He's especially adept at making the first pass out of the zone, a huge part of the game with the evolution of the NHL.

"It's hard to find guys that can do that," said veteran Kings blueliner Rob Blake, who knows a thing or two about being a top defender. "He does it as good as anyone. He escapes pressure in our zone better than anybody on our team, by far, and that's gonna go a long way for him."

For now, though, Johnson's NHL life is about learning and patience.

He's learning how to deal with facing top shooters opposing teams. He's learning how to play the pro game night after night. And he's learning how to pick and choose the right time to dump the puck off the glass or the right time to skate with it.

Most of all, the patience comes in waiting to register the offensive numbers he's compiled in the past.

The points -- he was a standout in the college ranks -- will come.

Heading into tonight's clash against the Calgary Flames, Johnson has compiled three goals and six assists in 59 games.

"Yeah, I'm in a different role than I've been in my entire life," Johnson said. "Growing up, I was counted on to put up numbers, play on the powerplay, jump into the rush ... that kind of thing.Now I'm more of a penalty killer in a defensive role ... and my job is to stop people from putting up points."

If there is one concern for Johnson's game so far, it's his plus-minus. That minus-14 isn't what he'd like to see.

"You're not going to be a plus on a last-place team, no matter how good you are," Blake said. "I don't think the numbers tell the story of what he does. You watch him play, watch how he brings the puck out of the zone, I don't know if there are too many young defencemen who do what he does at his age."

At least Johnson, who was part of the YoungStars game during last month's NHL all-star game festivities, has a couple of strong vets from which to learn. Until Blake was injured, they were partners. He lived at Blake's Manhattan Beach home early in the year.

And his roommate on the road is former Flames defenceman Brad Stuart.

"They're two of the nicest guys in the world and two great defencemen. Rob will be a Hall of Famer, and Stewie is one of the best. You can't ask for anything else," Johnson said. "They've really taught me to believe in my abilities. A lot of encouragement. They tell me when I get a chance to jump in, do it. They've been great for me."


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