Adam Johnson played just 13 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins but spent most of three seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He was a member of the NHL squad during the bubble in the 2020 NHL playoff tournament, and the team’s memories of him differed from the older players to his contemporary P.O Joseph, who played with him for an entire season in WBS.
Saturday, Johnson died tragically Saturday when he suffered a neck injury from a skate blade after a collision during a game in the UK.
Johnson was 29 years old.
Defensemen Kris Letang and P.O Joseph recalled Johnson being one of the tennis players on the team and getting plenty of time to play in the Toronto bubble during the playoffs. While Letang would just volley with Johnson, it sounds like Joseph and Johnson had a few competitive games through the year they shared in the Penguins organization.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan expressed that he didn’t have the words to describe the tragedy and loss.
“It was a privilege to be his coach. I remember when he first came to our development camp–that was my first experience watching him,” said Sullivan. “I talked to his college coaches when we were recruiting him to be a Penguins. And I do remember his first game. His first goal (Oct. 12, 2019) in Minnesota. He was a great kid. He was a good player. And boy, he could really skate.”
Johnson may have been a little shy around Penguins leaders and vocal players. Bryan Rust remembered him as kind of quiet. Captain Sidney Crosby remembered his enthusiasm for making it to the NHL at age 24.
Joseph spent a full season with Johnson with the WBS Penguins. He described Johnson as a pretty good jokester. Crosby remembered Johnson and how thrilled he was to make his NHL debut, as well as his first NHL goal. Johnson serendipitously scored his first and only NHL goal in Minnesota.
Johnson made his NHL debut on March 28, 2018. Two days later, he notched two assists against the Carolina Hurricanes. His first NHL goal was on Oct. 12, 2019. He and fellow AHL call-up Sam Lafferty connected on the goal.
“It’s something that we’ve all been thinking about since finding out. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones,” Crosby said. ‘And he’s just a great guy, a great teammate, and had an awesome attitude while was here — just generally happy to be playing in the NHL.”
Johnson was born in Grand Rapids, MN, a town of about 11,000 people in the northcentral part of the state. After a few years in the USHL with the Sioux City Musketeers, he returned home to play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, which isn’t far from Grand Rapids.
In his second year of college hockey, he registered 37 points, including 18 goals in 42 games. A couple of NHL players were also on that Duluth team, including Neil Pionk and Carson Soucy. Minnesota-Duluth lost in the NCAA championship game that year to National Collegiate Hockey Conference Rival, Denver.
In 13 career NHL games, Johnson had four points (1-3-4).
After splitting the 2021-22 season between the Ontario Reign and Lehigh Valley Phantoms, both of the AHL, Johnson played last season in Germany before moving to the English league and the Nottingham Panthers this season.
The Reign paid tribute to Johnson before their game Sunday, laying his jersey on an empty chair at center ice.
“Adam was such a joyful person, and I remember playing a lot of tennis with him in the bubble,” Joseph said. “Let me tell you, he’s a good (tennis player). I think it’s just the way he carried himself, just a happy person in general. And we’re sure we’ll miss him.”