Ending lengthy speculation which intensified after the NHL Draft, Minnesota recruit Erik Johnson is set to enroll in college and play for the Golden Gophers this fall.
In a release by the St. Louis Blues, who took Johnson first overall, team president John Davidson announced the decision.
“We feel this is a win-win situation for Erik to be going to an excellent hockey program to continue his development,” said Davidson. “This is beneficial for his career, short term and long term, to play for the Gophers. He will have an opportunity to compete for an NCAA National Championship, play in the World Junior Championships and enjoy university life.”
Johnson, 18, a native of Bloomington, Minn., spent the previous two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The 6-4, 222-pound Johnson tallied 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) along with 88 penalty minutes with the U.S. National Under-18 team this past year while winning a gold medal at the 2006 International Ice Hockey Federation World Under-18 Championships for the second consecutive year.
Johnson became the first Golden Gopher and Minnesotan ever taken No. 1 overall in the NHL Entry Draft. He also became the first defenseman since Chris Phillips in 1996 to be drafted first overall, the first blueliner with college hockey ties to be chosen No. 1, the second U.S.-born defenseman to go to the No. 1 pick and the fifth U.S.-born player to be drafted first overall.
This past season with the U.S. Under-18 squad, Johnson finished fifth on the team in scoring with 16-33–49 in 47 games. Prior to that, Johnson attended the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minn., during his freshman and sophomore seasons.
By not signing a pro contract, Johnson becomes the first player in the 44 years of the NHL Draft to play college hockey after being selected No. 1 overall. He also becomes the first No. 1 pick to wait at least a season to turn pro since Phillips.