COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Kent Johnson is set to make his NHL debut for the Blue Jackets on Wednesday when they host the Montreal Canadiens at 7 p.m.
Johnson was selected fifth overall by the Blue Jackets in last year’s draft, but the 19-year-old from Port Moody, British Columbia, Canada opted to stay at the University of Michigan for one more season before joining Columbus.
The Wolverines lost to Denver in the Frozen Four semifinals last week and less than 24 hours later, Johnson signed an entry-level deal with the team and took the team plane home after CBJ’s 5-4 overtime win over Detroit.
“Yeah I’m just really excited,” Johnson said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Johnson isn’t the only player making his NHL debut against Montreal.
Nick Blankenburg, a teammate of Johnson’s at Michigan, is also expected to play Wednesday. But his path to the NHL was a far cry from Johnson’s experience.
Blankenburg played four years of high school hockey at Romeo High School in Washington, Michigan. He wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school, so he opted to play for Victory Honda, a team in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League.
During that season, Blankenburg switched from forward to defense and the next year played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League where he was noticed by a Michigan scout. The 23-year-old had to pay his own way during his first three years with the Wolverines before being put on scholarship this past season.
While attending Michigan games this season to watch the newly-drafted Johnson, Blue Jackets’ scouts took notice of Blankenburg who totaled 14 goals and 15 assists in 38 games this season. Columbus wasn’t the only team that came calling, but Blankenburg ultimately decided to sign with the Blue Jackets.
“It’s a dream come true for any kid. A lot of people who have done a lot of things for me to be able to get this point: family, friends, teammates, coaching staffs, so I owe it all to them,” Blankenburg said.
Columbus is one game away from being mathematically eliminated from making the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but first-year coach Brad Larsen is still incorporating new players and lineups to see what might work for the future, including last week’s NHL debut for Powell native and former Buckeye Carson Meyer.