The Sioux Falls Stampede have had a rocky start to their USHL season, with a record of 12-12-3, and for good reason: they play in the same division as the two most stacked USHL teams in the Chicago Steel and the Muskegon Lumberjacks, as well as the US National Team Development Program. Tough odds to face as a member of the Stampede, especially if you’re a rookie defenceman with a predilection for the offensive side of the game.
There is one name that fits that unfortunate mold to a T, and yet seems to perform admirably day-in and day-out. If you have followed the 2021 Draft’s crop, you’ve probably heard of the skilled forward prospect, Kent Johnson; allow me to introduce you to the skilled defensive prospect, Brent Johnson. You will find below a nine-minute video analysis of three of his USHL games (against Des Moines, Lincoln and Waterloo), as well as a detailed written report and hand-collected stats in order to truly encompass what Johnson does well, and what he has to improve to reach the highest levels of pro hockey.
Immediately, you feel Johnson’s presence on the back-end as a stable, solid puck-mover, as he often showcases his top-tier stickhandling and forechecker deception. He also has very conservative defensive habits, often dropping deep in the neutral zone when the slightest whiff of an offensive turnover rears its head. When the opposite happens, he is quick to step up and join the rush, using his mix of high-end vision, skills, and skating to drive the puck up-ice, either himself or through his teammates. He shows great eyes to spot high-risk, high-reward passing lanes but struggles to execute them without hitting a body or stick. As long as the passing lane is clear, however, the puck is often tape-to-tape without any issues for the receiver. You’ll often see him take a winger’s spot for a split second, attempt a play, and be the first man back if it fails.
He can occasionally throw the body as well, despite his diminutive frame at 5’11, 165 pounds. Johnson makes his home in front of the net on defense, watching the play intently for any sign of a loose puck or turnover, and gaining body advantage on whoever passes through the low slot. He should scan the ice a bit more, but that is an easily correctable habit. Off the rush, Johnson will square up to the carrier and ensure that a slot pass is never an option. He’ll need to work on supporting his teammates better along the boards and on dump-in retrievals – he should either stay in a position where he’s ready to receive a pass and break out or get involved in the scrum to knock the puck loose, and occasionally he’s caught doing neither. He also tends to fall a lot, which reminds me of Kotkaniemi’s Bambi-like antics in his NHL rookie year – a very recent example of how this is correctable.
Johnson is very adept at forcing dump-ins, either by tying up the receiver’s body/stick on a pass or by stepping up at the blue line to block the entry lane. When facing shots, he will need to square up better and prevent the shot from seeping through. His upside does shine through, however, as he will often multiply his good sequences and avoid many bad ones with a smart pass or an alert interception.
Passing accuracy through traffic
In-zone decisions under pressure
Stats are hand-collected and even-strength only, unless indicated otherwise. Collected using approx. 60 minutes of ice-time at 5v5 over three-and-a-half games.
Success rate: 54/72 – 75% – decent rate of success for a player constantly looking to play the puck forward.
Out of his 35 successful passes from the defensive zone, 25 (71.4%) were either outlet or stretch passes, driving play away from his end.
Out of his 54 total successful passes, only three led directly to shots – surprising given he has more primary assists than secondary ones.
Analysis: Accurate passer who regularly attempts forward plays, and relies on his forwards to generate offense. Struggles with passing through layers. Works well with a group he trusts, that can drive play from the neutral zone to the net.
Contested: 6 won, 7 lost
Analysis: His tendency to lay deep on turnovers and rush the puck-carrier leads to many loose pucks for him to pick up, but he is average in 50/50 puck races. He plays to his strengths, ensuring he is often in a position to be first on the loose puck and avoid racing an opponent to it.
Line carries and transition: B+
Defensive blue line: 13
Red line: 8
Offensive blue line: 6
Three-line carries: 3
Breakout passes: 25
Analysis: Carries the puck out of the zone often, but favors the pass on the breakout. Only dumps the puck out as a last resort, when all else is unavailable. Excellent transition player with an eye for establishing offensive-zone sequences.
Play-driving : A
(on-ice team stats)
Passes to slot for vs. against: 9-6
Shot attempts for vs. against: 45-42
High-danger chances for vs. against: 23-11
Goal share relative to team (via Pick224, season stats) : 24.6% (His individual goal share is 24.6% better than the team’s total goal share – highest of any USHL draft-year defenceman – good stat for spotting good players on bad teams)
Goal share (via Pick224, season stats): 63.3% (second-highest among USHL draft-year blueliners – 63.3% of the total goals scored with Johnson on the ice were by his team)
Analysis: The disparity between the shot attempt share and high-danger chances share shows that he helps force point shots from the opposition while assisting his team in getting dangerous shots off. He is also driving play at a much better rate than his teammates, showing how much Johnson’s presence on the ice improves the Stampede’s overall performance.
Dump ins against vs. Line carries against: 29-47 (all sit.)
Puck checks: 5
Body checks: 4
Blocked passes: 12
Blocked shots: 5
Analysis: low man-on-man blocks, higher interception rates; plays an anticipation-focused game, looking mainly to outsmart his opponents rather than outmuscle them. Creates a considerable number of loose pucks through blue-line pinches on either end, forcing mistakes off opponents’ sticks. Pro hockey players are much less likely to be forced into a mistake than USHLers, though, and he will need to adjust to that.
On vs off-net: 10-5
Slap vs other 2-13
Outside vs. slot: 13-2
Analysis: Takes a lot of shots from just outside the slot, but very often manages to put it through the screens in front of him. Shies away from his slap shot, but the pre-shot movement on his wrister makes it a deadly weapon. Devils rookie defenceman Ty Smith does this really well.
The Stampede’s Brent Johnson has a profile that many scouts look for in a right-handed defenceman – a transitional ace with strong skating and stickhandling, who can stifle opponents’ chances with ease and who consistently out-thinks his peers. The defenceman is second among all USHL draft year skaters with min. 10 games played for individual impact compared to their team, behind only Matt Coronato. He is the only Stampede player anywhere near the top of this list, showing how much better the team is with him on the ice.
How he has gone unnoticed for this long is beyond understanding, with the most generous rankings projecting him as an early third-round pick. Hopefully, Pick224’s recent release of 2021 stats for most leagues outside the NHL will help bump him up a few draft boards, as he clearly warrants a top-60 mention, if not a late first-rounder, based on his performance on paper alone. His flaws are definitely there, and there’s a non-zero percent chance he does not see his day in the NHL; however, we are bound to see surprises at the podium in a draft year as wide open as this one, and Johnson seems like a perfect swing to take for a team lacking proper defencemen, especially on the right side (*cough* Edmonton *cough*).
The only way we’ll know is when we get there. In the meantime, see you next month for another USHL Deep Dive, where we evaluate a different Stampede player’s performance!