HIBBING — A lifetime of hard work has paid off for Adam Johnson.
Johnson, 24, a graduate of Hibbing High School, realized his life-long dream on Wednesday when he learned that he had been called up by Pittsburgh Penguins and he is prepared to make his National Hockey League debut tonight in Nashville, Tenn. In a telephone interview, he said he is thrilled to be playing in “The Big Show.”
“Honestly, it’s unbelievable,” said an elated Johnson. “Obviously it is something you work for your whole life and you never know if it is actually going to happen. But for it to finally come, it is pretty unbelievable.”
Following his graduation from Hibbing High School, he played part of one season with the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League, recording two assists in six games. He then played the next two years with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHA, scoring 15 and 31 goals.
Johnson then played for Hibbing native Scott Sandelin at the University of Minnesota-Duluth for two years before he was signed as an undrafted free agent on July 6, 2017, after attending a prospect development camp.
Johnson was Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s (American Hockey League) top-scoring forward this season, recording 18 goals and 40 points in 63 games.
He said he really doesn’t know what role he will play with the Penguins as of yet.
“All I pretty much know is that I am playing. It is tough to know what the extent will be but whatever opportunity they give me I hope I can take advantage of it,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he knows some of the guys on the Penguins that he played with at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. At 6-foot and 175 pounds, he is not big by NHL standards, but he possesses great speed which is always a wanted commodity in the NHL.
“I think the AHL kind of prepares you for the physical style, but up at this level guys are going to be bigger and stronger,” Johnson explained. “Obviously my size isn’t my biggest strong suit but I hope my speed can compensate for that and I think that should take care of itself.”
Johnson said he had no idea that he was going to be called up by the Penguins. He said he heard the news when he was woken by the call Wednesday morning.
“I am excited to be able to make this come true for the people who actually believed in me,” Johnson said. “I know there are a lot of people that are proud of me and I have had a lot of people reach out. The support is overwhelming and I think that is a big thing, just doing it for all the people who believed in me all those years and I think it is pretty awesome for the town of Hibbing.”
Johnson – a center – said his biggest asset is his speed and he said he hopes he will be able to provide some offense for the Penguins.
“Offense is something they are looking to get in the bottom couple lines so if I can provide a little offense while shutting them down defensively and doing my job, that will be good,” he said.
Johnson will also be eligible to play in the playoffs with Pittsburgh if he is given the chance.
“I am not really sure what that is going to hold. There is still some time here left but we will see there,” Johnson said. “I can’t even imagine how the NHL playoffs are and hopefully I am still here to make a playoff run with them. You see and hear how intense the actual playoffs are and I can’t even imagine how intense they are to actually play in it. It would be pretty awesome if I got the chance.”