Aaron Johnson happy to land leading role with Sheffield Steelers
THIS summer's comprehensive overhaul of the Sheffield Steelers roster has seen head coach Paul Thompson place greater emphasis on putting together a younger and, in theory, faster team.
But the former GB and Coventry Blaze boss has been around long enough to realise that, in order to be successful, you need a few older, more experienced bodies within that collection of young, eager heads.
Defenceman Mark Matheson and GB captain Jonathan Phillips are two obvious names that spring to mind when you look through the new-look Steelers roster for the kind of leadership and experience required of any team. From today, add the name Aaron Johnson.
The 35-year-old blue liner completes the defensive jigsaw for Thompson ahead of the 2018-19 campaign and will arrive early next month on the back of an impressive career that has seen him play 291 NHL games, as well as make 429 appearances in the AHL
Add to that two years at top-flight German club Adler Mannheim and it is easy to see why Thompson was so keen to bring Johnson to the UK. His capture means the Steelers just have one more new face to reveal before players begin to arrive for pre-season training camp in early August.
Johnson has been lured to Sheffield in part thanks to him being able to study for an MBA at the University of Sheffield as part of his two-year deal.
"Aaron being an AHL captain for three different teams tells you about the leadership and respect that he brings in with him," said Thompson. “I can’t explain how much work went into bringing Aaron to the Steelers, from ownership down. It’s been a long process, but one certainly worth the wait.
“You only have to look at Aaron’s CV to know we have signed a quality player. As well as the impressive North American career you can add Mannheim over the last two years, one of Europe’s top clubs.
"I must also say a huge thanks to Evan McGrath for his input and to everyone at the University of Sheffield for their assistance. I know we have signed a great player and I know they have signed a great student."
Johnson, a third round, 85th overall draft pick for the Columbus Blue Jackets back in 2001, played 116 times for the Ohio-based club before going on for spells with NHL rivals New York Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins.
After his short-lived spell in Boston, Johnson spent the next three years back in the AHL, wearing the 'C' at Hartford Wolf Pack, Binghamton Senators and Stockton Heat, before he made the move to Europe and Mannheim in the DEL.
After Johnson first became aware of the Steelers' interest, he conducted his own research into both the club and the league and, after being impressed by Thompson and the deal on the table, opted for his first taste of UK hockey.
"I struck up a good rapport with Paul and my research on Sheffield was thorough," said Johnson. "I spoke with friends and colleagues who had played in Britain and in the end came to the conclusion that two years with the Steelers and the University of Sheffield was the place for my family and I."
Having enjoyed such a productive 15-year professional career, Johnson acknowledges the changes he has had to make to his game over time and is confident he adapt once again and prove he can be a man for all situations once in a Steelers shirt.
“My skating is the part of my game that has kept me playing at this level," said Johnson. "I’ve played for teams where I’ve been an offensive defenceman and I’ve played for teams where I’ve been asked to be a defensive defenceman. I just love to play, I love to make plays, but I’ll also block shots and contain - whatever the team needs."