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Penguins’ Jack Johnson making himself comfortable in black and gold

September 23, 2018

Penguins’ Jack Johnson skates Wednesday Aug. 29, 2018 at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.

For the last five Augusts, Jack Johnson never had to worry about when was a good time to arrive in town to begin skating with his teammates in preparation for a new season.

While playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets, he made his year-round home in nearby Dublin, his wife’s hometown on the outskirts of Ohio’s capital.

“Never really left town,” Johnson said.

This time, of course, is different.

It has been a summer of change for the 31-year-old Johnson, who signed a five-year contract with the Penguins on July 1. He will have new teammates, a new spot in the Metropolitan Division hierarchy and perhaps a bit of a new role on the ice once training camp opens in two weeks.

“This is a new experience for me. I haven’t had this in a while,” Johnson said after a few Penguins players gathered for an informal skate Wednesday in Cranberry. “I got traded to Columbus and I didn’t know anybody there. This is a little bit more comfortable for me. I know quite a few guys here, actually.”

Johnson ticked off a list of familiar faces. Phil Kessel, who he has known since high school. Derick Brassard, his former teammate with the Blue Jackets. Kris Letang, who he has gotten to know over the past few years.

And of course, Sidney Crosby, his teammate and pal from their prep school days at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota.

“He was in the last few days,” Johnson said. “We got to work out together, skate together, catch up a little bit. My wife’s been in touch with his girlfriend and other girlfriends on the team. Everyone’s been very welcoming.”

On the ice, Johnson isn’t sure yet what kind of changes he’s in store for.

He doesn’t know which side of the ice he will patrol. With four left-handed shooters among the team’s top six defensemen, someone’s going to have to spend a lot of time on his off side. Johnson practically volunteered for right-side duty Wednesday.

“It’s not a big deal,” Johnson said. “I’ve played left, right, my whole career, as long as I can remember honestly, since high school. Some days I play right. Some days I play left.”

He doesn’t know exactly what his role will be.

At times in Columbus, Johnson played the minutes typical of a shutdown defenseman. He got plenty of defensive-zone starts and shifts against opponent’s top lines. As much as such things can be planned out in August, it looks like the Penguins will use more of an ensemble approach on the blue line this season.

Again, Johnson seemed amenable to whatever the Penguins plan to throw at him.

“I’m pretty open to anything,” Johnson said. “I think I can play in any situation. I try to. I like to think I can. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I take a lot of pride in being able to play in any situation.”

There will be time for details to be hammered out later. For now, Johnson is focused on getting comfortable in his new surroundings.

House hunting went well.

“We did it pretty quick,” Johnson said. “My wife was on top of it. She narrowed it down to three homes. We came in, one day, saw all three. We just kind of knew right away which one we were going to get.”

He hopes his transition on the ice is just as smooth.

“I’m really excited about it,” Johnson said. “I’m coming to a team that’s been the top team, one of the top teams, for a long time now. You sit in the room here surrounded by great players. I just think on an everyday basis, practice and games, being around great players helps elevate your own game individually.

“I don’t think of myself as on old guy yet. I still think I’ve got a lot to grow and a lot to improve on. I feel like I’m still getting started. I’m really excited about it.”

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