GRAND FORKS, ND– As a wedding was set-up for Saturday afternoon on the floor of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, another marriage took place hours before, as incoming University of North Dakota defenseman Brent Johnson was selected by the Washington Capitals in the third round of the 2021 NHL Draft. Sitting in a suite with his family, Johnson actually didn’t initially notice his name on the board.
“Actually, I wasn’t even looking,” said Johnson. “I was looking at my phone and then I looked up and it was pretty exciting. My heart kind of dropped for a second. Just a lot of emotions all at once. Unreal experience. I’ve been working on this for a long time now– especially with my family here with me. It’s something that’ll never forget. They’ve all been pulling the same rope that I have, so they know hard I’ve worked and it was special to have them here.”
Coming from Frisco, Texas, Johnson will be the first player to wear a North Dakota uniform from the Lone Star state and should be play for the Capitals, he’ll be the second player of record to hail from Texas, the first being Chris Brown from 2013 until 2016. Developing in the Dallas Stars Elite youth program, Johnson sees a lot of talent coming from the area from his experiences.
“It’s been a lot better and it’s growing fast,” Johnson mentioned of hockey in Texas. The guys are growing up and becoming hockey players and there’s some guys ahead of me that have come up. I think it’s a developing market and I’m really excited to see what the future holds for Dallas hockey.”
With the Draft being virtual again this year, the pomp and circumstance wasn’t at an NHL arena. Luckily for Johnson, North Dakota and The Ralph pulled out all the accommodations as they did last year for the 2020 Draft class that were slated to play for UND.
“It was amazing. Thanks to the staff for helping me put this together and allowing me to have such a special day. It was an unreal experience to see the building I’ll be playing at for the next four years. I can’t wait to get started.”
Johnson looked to be very dedicated to staying at North Dakota for the long haul, saying he had no changes in plans after getting drafted and was focused on a National Championship in the next four years. When talking about his incoming defender, North Dakota head coach Brad Berry was very eager to have him in the line-up.
“Just getting to know Brent over the last few months, it was something he was very excited for an when he name was called, him and his family were very excited. And we’re excited, too. It’s a point in time where he’ll never forget this moment, but not the work begins for him to have a productive season for us at North Dakota,” Berry said.
Berry continued, “He’s a very, very smart player. When you talk about smart players, you always wants those players who anticipate the next play. Even before the puck is on his tape, he knows where it’s going. And to add, he’s also ultra-competitive. He’s a very competitive player with a lot of offensive ability. We have a great, great player; but an even better person in our group.”
Johnson is coming off a solid season on the blueline in the USHL with 21 assists and 32 points in 47 games in his first full year. His offensive side is matched by his ability to keep the play in front of him defensively and protect his blindside well. One thing some scouting reports looked at was his skating style leading needing some work, which should come with time. While Johnson will be in the line-up this season, there is still things that are needed to work on, which Berry honed in on.
“He has very good offensive ability and he defends real well, but you can tell he’s a person who needs to grow his body a little bit,” mentioned Berry. “Him coming from Sioux Falls and coming here to train, which has already with the group; you can tell he’s going to get bigger and stronger with our group. We’re going to let time take place and we know he has the work ethic to do it.”