PITTSBURGH - A web of connections finally tied Ben Johnson of Calumet to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
The Windsor, Ontario, Spitfires forward and ex-Copper King was taken by the NHL Eastern Conference champions in the third round with the 90th overall pick of the 2012 Entry Draft.
"I've been dreaming of that day since I was a little kid, being drafted, and the experience was almost identical to what I thought it'd be like," Johnson said.
New Jersey Devils draft pick Ben Johnson talks to the media after his selection as the 90th pick of the 2012 National Hockey League entry draft Saturday in Pittsburgh in this screenshot from a YouTube video produced by the team. Johnson, who plays for the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires in the Canadian Major Junior circuit, is the seventh Copper Country product to be selected since 1968.
Johnson will take a place next to cousin Blake Pietila in the Devils' stable of prospects. Pietila, who is from downstate Milford, was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft and has played a year for Michigan Tech.
Also, Johnson skated last summer with Adam Henrique, an ex-Spitfire who went on to become one of the NHL's top rookies last season, scoring multiple overtime game-winners as the Devils ran to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Further, the Devils are the organization with which Michigan Tech alum Randy McKay played 11 seasons, winning two Stanley Cups. Johnson was told McKay put in a good word for him with the organization.
Despite all the degrees of separation, a big factor was sitting down face to face with Devils' brass, a process from which Johnson came away encouraged.
"You could just tell by talking to them, the facial expressions and the way the interview is going," he said.
"I thought I did really good talking to them, and I thought I did really good on the treadmill test they assigned me on the day before the draft."
Devils director of scouting David Conte clearly came away impressed.
"Ben Johnson's outstanding. We're really, really happy with him," he said in a YouTube video recorded by the team's public relations department.
Conte called him a "great, great kid" and spoke of his path from Calumet High School to the Ontario Hockey League, where he posted 18 goals and 20 assists in his first year after playing for the Copper Kings.
"He's come down south to play and he's adjusted very well and we expect him to do great things for us in the future," Conte said.
Johnson is the seventh Copper Country player to be drafted since 1968 and the first since Jeff Finger of Houghton was taken by Colorado in the eighth round in 1999.
Only Herb Boxer (of Hancock, No. 17 to Detroit in 1968) and Mike Usitalo (of Calumet, No. 84 to Los Angeles in 1972) have gone higher.
There's still a long way to go for Johnson. He'll be at the Devils' rookie camp in July and spend at least another full season in the OHL.
"I think it all depends on how I do in camp. They'll talk to me then, tell me what to work on next season and how to develop as a player in the NHL," he said.
He's back in Windsor this week, getting ready for a second season with the Spitfires. Though he admitted it was hard to take the Devils gear off at the end of the day, he said he doesn't have to worry about dwelling too much on Saturday.
"Just to have my family with me for that moment, I think I had enough enjoyment with that," he said.