Jack Johnson pursues a degree at Michigan when he's off the ice

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jackjohnsonshoots.jpgJack Johnson is a specimen of a defenseman, but sometimes his high-risk, high-reward style gives him a bit of a “shaggy dog” reputation. While he has some learning to do in his own end, he also acknowledges that he’d like to hit the books off the ice too. In a nice (and sadly rare) story, Johnson is working toward earning his degree at his former school, the University of Michigan. Ann Arbor.com has more.

Each summer, the fourth-year Los Angeles Kings defenseman returns to Ann Arbor, enrolls in summer school and continues to chip away at his general studies degree. Although he hasn’t experienced life as a full-time student for three years, Johnson relishes his time on campus.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Johnson said on Thursday. “If it was easy, everyone who left would do it. I’m not in a race to get it, but I know if I stop, it will be hard to start up again.

“I can’t play hockey forever, unfortunately. I will have the second half of my life ahead of me, and I want that degree.”

During the NHL season, Johnson, who is 23, takes classes online, using off-days to study and complete coursework. Technology, including video conferencing and Web tutorials, has made distance learning easier, but balancing school with an NHL career isn’t easy.

It’s funny that Johnson is maintaining his connection to his college hockey days and his coach Red Berenson because, not too long ago, a surprisingly candid story surfaced in which Kings GM Dean Lombardi discussed the young defenseman’s lack of structure with the Wolverines.

When people discuss the Kings’ troubles in landing Ilya Kovalchuk, Johnson is often cited alongside star Drew Doughty and rugged forward Wayne Simmonds as players Lombardi would hope to keep. My guess is that those wounds will heal up at some point, but you have to wonder if Johnson has any hard feelings toward the franchise.

Either way, it’s a nice story even if it’s a bit sad that it’s such a rare occurrence in hockey and all sports, really.

(H/T to Cassie from Raw Charge.)

Panarin impresses ‘Hawks with his preseason debut

Artemi Panarin
AP Photo
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Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.

Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.

“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.

The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.

Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.

Gustavsson secures one-year contract with Bruins

Jonas Gustavsson
AP Photo
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There was stiff competition for the backup goaltending job in Boston, but with a signing this afternoon, it seems likely that the matter has been resolved.

The Boston Bruins announced that Jonas Gustavsson has agreed to a one-year, $700,000 deal. It’s a one-way contract, according to the Boston Globe’s Amalie Benjamin.

That contract is still small enough that the Bruins could bury it in the minors if they so desire, but it does set him apart from his last competitor for the goalie position, Jeremy Smith, who has a two-way deal. The fact that Boston went this route seems to imply that Gustavsson will serve as Tuukka Rask‘s understudy, although both netminders attended Sunday’s practice.

In Smith, the Bruins would be getting a 26-year-old goaltender who was dominant with the AHL’s Providence Bruins last season, but has no NHL experience. By contrast Gustavsson, 30, has played in almost 150 NHL games.

Boston sent Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban to the minors last week, but an argument could be made that either one of them is worthy of the backup job. However, both of them have a lot of potential and it’s not surprising that the Bruins felt they were better served by staying in the minors where they can play regularly and focus on honing their game.