Johnston’s season has him trending towards being a draft steal
The way things are trending, Wyatt Johnston may turn out to be the steal of the 2021 NHL Draft.
He did not get a chance to showcase his talent during his draft year, as the OHL season was shut down owing to COVID-19 lockdowns all across Ontario. But Johnston still managed to keep his training going in his hometown of Toronto, ON.
And he’s more than made up for lost time.
“I had to kind of get creative, skating on outdoor rinks, and had made a rink in my backyard,” Johnston said. “So I was skating on outdoor rinks and working out in my garage, just trying to stay in shape so that if I ever got a chance to play, I’d be able to do well.”
The freshly-turned 19-year-old is a skilled and cerebral center who plays for the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League. He dominated the circuit and was the top scorer of the entire Canadian Hockey League, putting up an impressive 124 points (46 goals, 78 assists) in 68 games.
His efforts are more than just of the producing nature, though.
“Johnston is an agile and darting skater who knows supreme confidence with the puck and great poise under pressure,” FCHockey scout Joseph Aleong started. “He’s able to draw opponents towards him to open up space for his linemates.”
The Dallas Stars may have landed a special player when they selected Johnston with the No. 23 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
So let’s dive a little deeper into the hockey traits of Wyatt Johnston to discover what might make him the steal of the 2021 NHL Draft.
WHO IS WYATT JOHNSTON?
Johnston is listed at 6-foot-1 and 174 pounds, and was born on May 14, 2003. He played his minor hockey in the Toronto Marlboros system in GTHL (Greater Toronto Hockey League), one of the best minor hockey leagues in Canada.
He was selected sixth overall in the OHL Priority Selection Draft in 2019 by the Windsor Spitfires.
Johnston tries to emulate his game to Montreal Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki and Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He likes their skill and vision on the ice and enjoys watching them to see what more he can learn.
Johnston joined the Spitfires for the 2019-20 season as a 16-year-old and registered 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 53 games during his rookie campaign.
He didn’t have an immediate follow-up campaign in 2020-21 because of COVID restrictions, but he was able to represent Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. There, he notched four points (two goals, two assists) in seven games to help Canada capture gold.
Fast forward to his OHL return in 2021-22, and it’s been an explosion from Johnston, who, as mentioned, led both the OHL and CHL in points and also claimed the top points-per-game (PPG) title with a 1.82 total. An excellent post-draft season, indeed.
The one strength of Johnston’s game that stands out is his high hockey IQ. He always seems to find the open lanes, either for his positioning away from the puck or for passing lanes to find his teammates. He knows the game at a different level and can learn and adapt very quickly.
Johnston also has some good creativity with the puck and can beat most defenders with his soft hands. His puck control and passing prowess make him a threat when carrying the puck in the offensive zone.
“His top-end speed and stickhandling makes him a dangerous player in transition, as his creativity and quick release make him a dual threat inside the offensive zone,” Aleong said. “He has improved his aggressiveness and consistency off the puck since his rookie year, pressuring defenders on the forecheck with his quickness and creating more turnovers on the backend with his puck skills.”
Johnston also possesses a deceptive, lethal shot that is strong and accurate. If he does not have the open passing lane, he can beat a goalie in one-on-one situations.
But through and through, Johnston thinks he’s a playmaker at heart.
“I’d say I’m a little bit more of a pass first kind of player,” he said. “I think I also have an ability to score goals too, but probably more of a disher.”
JOHNSTON’S AREAS OF IMPROVEMENTS
One area of improvement that Johnston needs to address is his small frame and stature. He knows that he needs to get bigger and stronger in order to make the jump to the next level, having already skated with the Stars during a prospect camp in the summer.
“Skating and strength, ultimately those are the two most important things for me,” he admitted. “Being in Dallas and playing against all the guys there, just how fast and how big and strong they are, that’s something that I’m going to need to improve upon to make it to the next level.”
Johnston, at times, is too easily pushed off the puck. But with his high hockey IQ can avoid unnecessary puck battles due to his on ice vision and positioning.
Another aspect of the game that Johnston would like to improve on is his skating. For him to succeed at the NHL level, where you only have milliseconds to react, he needs to get faster.
“While Johnston has improved his physical tenacity and added more lower-body strength to increase his top speed, both areas could be improved in order to allow Johnston to thrive between the circles and under physical pressure in the NHL,” Aleong stated.
These areas can be easily addressed and all that is required is some time to develop physically and improve on his skating. Time spent with a strength and conditioning coach in the off season will definitely help.
Johnston is one of, if not the top-rated prospect in the Stars organization and there is much to look forward to.
He is an intelligent and cerebral player that possesses all the positive attributes that will eventually translate into a solid NHL player. His ability to slow the play down, along with his skillset, should see him playing top-six minutes.
“He has all the tools to be a two-way force at center who can contribute on special teams,” Aleong detailed.
Johnston will need to bulk up and become stronger, as well as improve upon his skating and speed before making the jump to the NHL. A year or two in their farm system, with the Texas Stars in the American Hockey League, should help resolve these issues and help him progress accordingly.
Given his current development path, Johnston could become the proverbial steal of the 2021 draft.