Minnesota defenseman Erik Johnson has decided to forgo his final three years of eligibility and has signed a professional contract with the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League.
“Erik was immediately an impact player in our program and was a major reason we were able to win WCHA Regular Season and Playoff Championships this past season,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “He is certainly one of the most talented defensemen I have ever had the privilege of coaching. It is always bittersweet when a player leaves our program, but there is no doubt in my mind that Erik will have a terrific career in the NHL. I wish him a lot of success at the next level.”
A 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman, Johnson earned WCHA All-Rookie Team honors after leading the conference’s rookie blueliners in scoring with totals of 4-20–24 in 41 games. Johnson finished third among Minnesota defenseman and seventh on the team in scoring. Owning four multi-point games on the season, Johnson led the team in blocked shots. The top overall draft pick of the St. Louis Blues at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Johnson owned a plus/minus rating of +8 and had three assists on game-winning goals this past season. In January, Johnson was named the best defenseman at the 2007 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship, leading the U.S. with four goals and six assists in seven games.
At the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, 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. Johnson also became the third University of Minnesota student-athlete to be selected first overall in a professional draft after Mychal Thmpson was tabbed as the first pick in the 1978 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers and Janel McCarville went No. 1 in the 2005 WNBA Draft to the Charlotte Sting.
Johnson entered the draft after two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. A member of the NTDP Under-18 Team this past season, Johnson finished fifth on the team in scoring with 16-33–49 in 47 games. In April, he helped the U.S. National Under-18 Team to the gold medal at the 2006 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Sweden. Johnson also represented the U.S. at the 2006 IIHF World Junior Championship early this year in Canada. Prior to his time at the NTDP, Johnson attended the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minn., during his freshman and sophomore seasons. In 2003-04, he had 13-21–34 in 31 games and was named Missota All-Conference during the Stars’ consolation championship season. Johnson had 2-9–11 during his freshman season to help Holy Angels to third place at the state tournament.
Johnson is the first Golden Gopher defenseman to give up remaining eligibility to play professional hockey since Keith Ballard signed a contract with the Phoenix Coyotes following his 2003-04 junior season.