The Dallas Stars made a move in their RFA department just before the NHL Draft began. They signed defenseman Stephen Johns to a three-year contract extension, locking up a critical piece of their blue line for the future.
This story was updated at 10:32 p.m. on Friday, June 22.
And so the first Dallas Stars RFA domino gets locked down.
No more than an hour before the 2018 NHL Draft kicked off at the American Airlines Center, the Stars made pre-draft waves in the free agency department.
Dallas announced that they had signed defenseman Stephen Johns to a contract extension. Johns, one of nine RFAs in the Stars’ system, was the first one to receive a new deal.
The deal for Johns is for three years and carries an AAV of $2.35 million. It’s a solid bridge deal that gives Johns a chance to build his game and potentially earn himself a longer-term deal while still giving him security and a chance to grow within the organization.
“It’s the biggest day of my career,” said Johns. “I couldn’t be more excited and I just want to thank the Dallas Stars and Tom Gaglardi for having faith in me.”
Johns is coming off his best season at the NHL level. After being traded to the Dallas Stars in the summer of 2015 along with Patrick Sharp, he began his Stars career in the AHL. Towards the end of the season, however, he was called up to make his debut and stuck with Dallas through their 2016 Stanley Cup Playoff run.
2016-17 wasn’t the most ideal year for the big-bodied defender as he struggled to stay consistent in an “offense first” system. But when Ken Hitchcock arrived in the 2017 offseason, hope was restored for the 26-year-old.
Johns countered a disappointing 2016-17 season with an impressive 2017-18 campaign. He was given a chance to show off his defensive capabilities in a new system and took complete advantage of it.
As a result, he was one of the most consistent defenders for Dallas in 2017-18. Johns showed off his shutdown style on a regular basis in the defensive zone, using his physicality, size, and reach to his advantage. He also proved to be flexible through the lineup, playing on different parings and with different defenders, both old and young.
In addition, he also proved to be an offensive force using his fast, tricky slap shot. Johns posted a career-high eight goals along with 15 total points (also a new high) and flipped his -10 rating from 2016-17 to a +10.
He’s proving to be the main piece from the 2015 trade with Chicago and is growing into a reliable defender that the Stars can truly stick anywhere in the lineup. That flexibility is hard to come by with defensemen. The Dallas Stars know that, and that’s why they locked him down.
“We’re excited about Stephen [Johns],” Stars general manager Jim Nill said. “Ever since we traded for him with Chicago, his game has developed and we think there’s still more development to come. He’s still a young man. What I like [is that] he’s a big, strong man, he skates well, he’s got a really good shot. I think last year, the coaching staff did a very good job with him. I think we’re just starting to see what he can become. I think as he grows up with these other young defensemen now, I think we’ve got a good group of six guys coming together.”
Johns will be entering his third full season at the NHL level (fourth overall) in 2018-19 and looks to be a big piece of the Stars’ future. In addition, he’s excited to get back on the ice.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to put the skates back on,” said Johns. “We have a big fire in our bellies right now and I think we’re all really excited to get back in camp and get back together.”
It’s a solid deal for a solid defenseman that still owns solid potential. And with that, let the re-signing period officially begin for the Stars.