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Johnson Hopes Slump Ends Soon

February 23, 2003|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

DETROIT — He is the least discussed of the five Kings eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer, perhaps because he has flown so far below the radar this season. Craig Johnson has scored three goals in 57 games.

The 30-year-old forward is still valued by the Kings for his speed and versatility, but they'd like more offense. Last season, returning to the lineup after a severed tendon in his right ankle reduced his 2000-01 season to 26 games, he scored 13 goals and tied for the club lead in plus-minus at plus-14.

"Last year, I thought I made a step up," said Johnson, who is a minus-six this season. "This year, I'm not where I want to be. I know I'm a better player than I've shown. I just have to look at these last [21] games as a tryout."

Like the Kings' other potential unrestricted free agents -- Felix Potvin, Bryan Smolinski, Aaron Miller and Dmitry Yushkevich -- Johnson would like to re-sign with the Kings, who acquired him in the February 1996 trade that sent Wayne Gretzky to the St. Louis Blues.

Coach Andy Murray is pulling for him -- "I hope he plays well enough that by the end of the season we say, 'We have to have this guy,' " the coach said -- but notes that Johnson has left himself vulnerable.

"We think he needs to be a 15-goal guy because if he's not, you start to wonder, are there other [younger] guys out there that are three-goal guys," Murray said. "He knows that he has to play good. Play good and good things happen."


Brad Chartrand, who sat out the Kings' 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night, returned to Los Angeles on Saturday to see a specialist about his injured back.

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