CRANBERRY TWP. — Adam Johnson went into the Pittsburgh Penguins development camp in July thankful for the opportunity.
He left it having to make a tough decision.
With two seasons of college hockey at Minnesota-Duluth, Johnson was considered one of the top undrafted free agents this summer. He wrapped up last season with 18 goals and 37 points in 42 games and was invited to development camp.
Johnson, 23, impressed the Pittsburgh brass, and a few days after the camp ended they offered him a two-year entry level contract.
All of a sudden, Johnson was faced with a choice: Go back to school or begin his pro career with the Pittsburgh organization.
“It was tough, but at the end of the day it’s probably the best organization in the NHL. It was a tough offer to turn down,” Johnson said.
Days into his first NHL training camp with Pittsburgh, Johnson centered a line with Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary during scrimmages.
A couple of months after he made the tough choice to leave college and turn pro, Johnson says he believes he made the right decision.
“Another year or two (of college) would’ve helped me out, but for my development being here will help a lot to make the next step,” he said.
The 6-foot, 174-pound center gives the Pittsburgh organization extra depth up the middle, and he’s likely to begin the season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Pittsburgh has had a string of luck developing forward from the college ranks, and the list includes Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Scott Wilson and Carter Rowney.
Johnson might be next.
“This organization gives everyone a shot,” he said. “You see that with guys like Guentzel last season. That’s a big reason why I wanted to come here.”
Johnson also has experience playing at either wing position and the Minnesota native has been a point producer in both juniors and the college ranks. Before joining Minnesota-Duluth, Johnson tallied 31 goals and 71 points in 59 games with Sioux City in the USHL to lead his team in scoring.
His 37 points at Minnesota-Duluth last season was the second-highest total on the team. Johnson said his game is based on providing offense and one of his key strengths is speed, an attribute that will help him transition into the system employed by the Pittsburgh organization.
Johnson had plenty of opportunity to display his speed while centering two of Pittsburgh’s fastest players in Rust and Sheary during training camp.
“They’re pretty good players and it’s a big jump from college to centering those guys,” Johnson said. “I’m just trying to catch up to their level.”
• With Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s training camp starting this weekend, Pittsburgh re-assigned several players on Wednesday. The list includes forwards Tom Kostopoulos, Ryan Haggerty, Reid Gardiner, Gage Quinney; defensemen Dylan Zink and Jeff Taylor; and goaltender Sean Maguire.
• Pittsburgh trimmed its training camp roster earlier this week when forward Jan Drozg; defensemen Zachary Lauzon and Connor Hall; and goaltender Alex D’Orio were assigned to their junior teams.