Much to the surprise of many Michigan hockey fans, freshman standout Jack Johnson will remain a Wolverine for the time being.
Johnson declined an offer Tuesday from the Carolina Hurricanes that would have allowed him to play for the team during its Stanley Cup playoff run starting in April, his mother, Tina Johnson, said.
Since they drafted him with the third overall pick in last year’s NHL Entry Draft, the Hurricanes have been pressing Johnson to sign a contract, even promising positions in their lineup the following night, another source close to Johnson said.
But Johnson resisted the temptation of a large contract and the right to play at the world’s highest level, instead finishing the season with his Michigan teammates.
With the rash of Michigan players who have left the University early in the past few years, the team’s loss Friday night to North Dakota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament begged one obvious question: What will become of Johnson’s college career?
Once the Wolverines were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, many expected Johnson to sign immediately.
“Our phone was ringing with people asking what Jack was going to do before he had his skates off in North Dakota,” Tina Johnson said.
The Hurricanes clinched a postseason berth Monday night and are considered a contender for the Stanley Cup.
“We support Jack in whatever decision he makes,” Tina Johnson said. “We value his education, and Jack really loves Michigan.”
Johnson has been a Michigan fan his entire life. His mother and grandfather are University alumni. He has attended Michigan games for as long as he can remember, a fact that likely informed his decision to stay.
The Hurricanes will likely make another pitch to Johnson once their season ends.
Three former Wolverines — goaltender Al Montoya and forwards Jeff Tambellini and Mike Brown — left the University late last summer when NHL franchises offered them chances to sign.
Because Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford said he would fit into their lineup immediately, Johnson can expect another offer in July or August.
“Jack is a high-skill defenseman that can really play in all aspects of the game,” Rutherford told The Michigan Daily last October. “From the Hurricanes’ point of view, he’s an ideal fit. We needed some younger players to balance out the guys we have right now.”