OTTAWA -- The Bruins signed free agent defenseman Aaron Johnson for the express purpose of plugging him into their lineup if injuries gnawed away their blue-line depth.
So now coach Claude Julien and the Bruins are looking at Johnson as a key figure, starting Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators, after rugged 6-foot-5 defenseman Adam McQuaid went down with a shoulder strain.
Johnson will be asked to fill in temporarily -- perhaps as long as a month -- as McQuaid recuperates from an injury that will keep him out of the lineup for at least 3-4 weeks. Of course the Bruins might wind up making a trade for a defenseman prior to April 3. But for now Johnson is ready to step in and contribute, and essentially do the job that Boston signed him to do.
You won’t see anything fancy, or any end-to-end rushes, but you will see a solid, stay-at-home defenseman with plenty of experience. That should be the perfect fit for a guy stepping in for the no-nonsense McQuaid.
“I’m obviously very excited,” said Johnson, who had a season-best 3 goals and 16 points for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. “You prepare for these kinds of situations when you’re working so hard during practice and off the ice. You never hope for these situations, but you prepare just the same. With McQuaid out of the lineup it gives me a chance to play my game.
“I’m just trying to play well physically, play well defensively and trying to get shots through the net. I’m just trying to stick to the basics and keep it simple. That will be the goal tonight.”
McQuaid was averaging just 14 minutes and 18 seconds of ice time this season and hadn’t been at the top of his game for most of the year, so it could e an opportune time for Johnson to step in and give the Bruins some impactful minutes. If Johnson can help stabilize the third defense pairing with Andrew Ference, then that’s one less thing that general manager Peter Chiarelli has to worry about at the April 3 trade deadline.
That would be a pretty big deal coming from a player in Johnson that wasn’t sure what level of importance his role would be this season while donning the Black and Gold.