ASU hockey freshman forward Johnny Walker has started to emerge as a scoring threat for the Sun Devils in his first season after a rocky beginning.
This season, ASU hockey has given at least 15 starts to six freshmen, one of which is standout winger Johnny Walker.
The hometown kid already appears to have surpassed the learning curve that comes to most freshmen playing college hockey. He is tied for the team lead with seven goals, and leads the team in shots with 79.
The impressive totals come even after recording a meager two points in his first nine games as a Sun Devil.
Ever since missing the first game of the Penn State series as a healthy scratch, the young winger has 10 points in his last 13 games. The stretch was capped by an impressive two-goal performance against UMass-Lowell.
The question is, how did the budding star get here?
According to Walker, his father, a former goaltender at Boston College, was his inspiration to play hockey. Unfortunately, his father’s goalie prowess was not passed down to his son.
In the early stages of his career, Walker actually played as a defenseman.
When asked about when and why the switch happened, Walker said, “I actually played D up until two years ago, three years ago. Then, I couldn’t cut it as a D, so they moved me up front. It fits a little better, I got a little bit of a scoring touch…it worked out well.”
To say it worked out well is an understatement. Walker has used his smooth stick-handling and lethal wrist shot to develop into a legitimate scoring threat in those few years.
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Johnny Walker is also one of the more intriguing personalities in the locker room.
When asked to describe the person behind the player, head coach Greg Powers said “He’s a really good person. He’s got a lot of moxie and he’s a kid that needs managed a little bit because of that moxie, but that’s what I love about him. He’s just himself and everyone loves him for it…once he learns how to channel all those great traits he has, he’s going to be a tremendous college hockey player.”
The moxie, as Powers puts it, is evident in Walker’s play.
In the 4-0 win against UMass-Lowell, Walker scored his second goal on a 3-on-1 rush. He skated with the puck up the right side of the ice, decided to keep it, and eventually scored from the left side of the goal.
Common sense says to pass the puck in order to possibly find an open teammate; therefore, the shot would likely be on an open net, which is the most efficient shot.
However, Walker opted to perform a toe drag through traffic, which he transitioned into a backhanded score.
The gutsiness to take the shot himself in a hectic situation exemplifies the mindset top goal scorers must have in order to be successful. It’s a trait that his teammates are surely grateful to see in him.
That is part of the reason why his line with Dominic Garcia and Brett Gruber works so well. Garcia is a high-energy player who can get the puck out of the defensive zone, while Gruber is an excellent playmaker from the center position.
Coach Powers put the dynamic simply when he said, “It’s a nice mix of really everything between Gruber and Dom. They got everything in that line that you need to be successful.”
Not only does Walker bring a spark on the ice, but he’s also a presence in the locker room. Alternate captain Louie Rowe said, “He seems to be one of the looser guys getting everybody excited.”
The excitement and energy stems from the immense pride he feels from playing for his hometown Sun Devils.
Coach Powers noticed it when he recruited Walker, and still notices now.
“He’s got a tremendous amount of pride in being from here and playing in front of his family and helping us build this program,” Powers said.
The pride seems to elevate Walker’s play and is a key reason why Powers and the rest of the coaching staff are excited to build a program around guys like him.
At the end of the day, what matters most is the mark Walker leaves on the program.
When asked if he’s confident in leaving the program in the hands of guys like Walker, Louie Rowe didn’t miss a beat and said, “Yeah, absolutely.”
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.