Washington Capitals select UND freshman defenseman Brent Johnson in third round of NHL Draft

The skilled defender was named after a goalie named Brent Johnson, who once played for the Caps.

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Incoming UND freshman defenseman Brent Johnson answers questions from local and national media in a suite at Ralph Engelstad Arena after being drafted by the Washington Capitals in the third round of the NHL draft on Saturday, July 24, 2021. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

UND freshman defenseman Brent Johnson was born in St. Louis in 2003 to a family of Blues fans.

The starting goalie for the Blues at the time was a guy named Brent Johnson.

"I think I was actually named after him," the UND blue liner said. "It's kind of funny."


A couple years later, the goaltender ended up going to the Washington Capitals. He played four years there and now covers the team for NBC Washington as a studio analyst on their game broadcasts.

Perhaps its only fitting that his namesake is, in a way, following in his footsteps.

UND's Brent Johnson was selected by the Washington Capitals in the third round during Saturday's NHL Draft. Johnson, who watched the draft from Ralph Engelstad Arena alongside family members and friends, went with the No. 80 overall pick.

"I was looking at my phone and I looked up and saw it," Johnson said of the pick. "It was pretty exciting. My heart kind of dropped for a second. It was just a lot of emotions all at once.

"It's a dream come true for sure. I've been working toward this for a long time and now. Especially to have my family with me, it's something I'll never forget."

Johnson was the first UND-bound player to be selected Saturday. Two committed recruits followed him.

UND forward commit Jackson Blake went in the fourth round, No. 109 overall, to the Carolina Hurricanes, and defenseman commit Nate Benoit went in the sixth round, No. 182 overall, to the Minnesota Wild.

After Washington selected Johnson, current Capitals forward T.J. Oshie tweeted, "Love this!!! @UNDmhockey, @SFstampede." Oshie followed the same development path as Johnson, playing briefly for the Sioux Falls Stampede and then coming to UND.


"Brent's an excellent skater, really good hockey sense, good hands," Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said. "I think he had 11 goals this year. Pretty good for a first-year guy in the USHL. He showed he was very good at quarterbacking a power play. Those are probably the main things our scouts liked about his play."

UND head coach Brad Berry watched the draft in The Ralph and congratulated his new right-handed shooting defenseman afterward.

"It was very exciting," Berry said. "Just getting to know Brent over the course of the last few months, this is something he was really excited for. When his name was called by Washington, him and his family were very excited. We're excited, too. It's a point in time, where he'll never forget this moment, and now the work begins as far as getting his season in order to have a productive season for us here at North Dakota."

Johnson said he knows the Capitals win a lot, so he has a lot of work to do to someday make the team, but he's focused on what's ahead of him this season instead of down the road.

"I'm here to just get better and win national championships at the end of the day," Johnson said. "Going into the season, I just want to help my team win as much as I can. I'm not even worried about the NHL right now."

Johnson figures to play a key role right away. UND only brings back one right-handed defenseman from last year's team, junior alternate captain Ethan Frisch.

So, Johnson will have an opportunity to slide into an open spot immediately.

"He's a very good two-way defenseman," Berry said. "He's a very, very smart player. When you talk about smart players, you always want those players that anticipate and know the next play. Even before the puck's on his tape, he knows where it's going. You love to have those players in your lineup. And then add that he's ultra competitive. He's a very competitive player that has very good offensive ability. When he said Cale Makar is the bar he wants to get to, that's a good one to try to replicate. We have a great player, but even a better person in our group here with Brent Johnson."


For the second-straight year, the NHL Draft was held online and remotely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Just as it did last year, UND set up a draft party in The Ralph to try to make it a special day, anyway. Sophomore Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven went through it last season. Johnson, whose parents Eric and Paula were seated next to him watching the draft unfold on the center-hung scoreboard, had the experience this year.

"It was amazing," said Johnson, UND's first Washington Capitals draft pick since Shane Gersich in 2014. "Thanks to the staff here for helping me put this together and allowing me to have such a special day. Thank you to everybody who helped out. It was just an unreal experience to see it in the building I'm going to be playing in for the next four years. I can't wait to get started."

UND's 2021 NHL Draft board

Brent Johnson

UND arrival: This summer.

Position: Defenseman.

Team: Washington Capitals.

Pick: Round 3, No. 80 overall.


Jackson Blake

UND arrival: Fall 2022.

Position: Forward.

Team: Carolina Hurricanes.

Pick: Round 4, No. 109 overall.

Nate Benoit

UND arrival: Fall 2022 or 2023.

Position: Defenseman.


Team: Minnesota Wild.

Pick: Round 6, No. 182.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at
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