If there can actually be a veteran at Blackhawks Prospect Camp, defenseman Stephen Johns would have to be considered one, what with this being his fifth time around.
As much as the 22-year-old enjoys being an elder statesman at Johnny's IceHouse this week, the recent Notre Dame graduate has his eyes set on becoming a rookie again when the big club breaks training camp this fall. And with the team's salary cap in a state of flux and the possibility of a spot on the blue line opening up, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder figures to get a shot.
"Anyone would be lying to you if they said they didn't look at it and hope for an opportunity, but you have to be opportunistic with every situation; when you have a chance, you have to make the most of it," Johns said. "Hopefully that day comes, but until then, you have to keep working."
With that in mind, the Hawks' second-round pick in 2010, who finished up his senior year in South Bend and then had a cup of coffee with Rockford in the spring, is approaching this camp differently.
"Yeah, definitely," Johns said. "You don't know what's going to happen in the fall, so you have to keep your eyes open to every situation, be opportunistic. It's different."
And so is Johns, who started his Notre Dame career, admittedly a little out of control, but grew from it. He learned his lesson and eventually became a captain for the Fighting Irish.
"My freshman year, I was really excited, trying to run around and kill anyone," Johns said with a smile. "I got myself in a lot of problems -- going to the penalty box. Some of my teammates and coaches weren't too happy with me; they told me to rein it back, let the play and hits come to me and not go looking for it.
"I really progressed in that area."
He credits returning for his senior season as helping in that department.
"It was a great experience, going back for my senior year and having the ability to be a captain and take on more of a leadership role," Johns said. "It was such an important season in my career. I felt like I had a strong year and ended the year in Rockford, so I got some pro experience under my belt as well."
Johns had a career-best 14 assists to go along with 62 penalty minutes in his final Notre Dame season and then made his pro debut with Rockford, where he registered 5 points in 8 games.
"This season I took a big step (offensively), I finally started finding the back of the net there in the second half," he said. "I felt more comfortable with the puck. I was lugging the puck up ice more than I used to. It just comes with experience and having confidence in yourself, and the coaches having the confidence in you to make plays."
But it'll be his shutdown ability on defense that will determine the future for Johns, who was asked which NHL player he models his game after.
"I grew up in Pittsburgh, so I watched a lot of Brooks Orpik. I try to play a defensive shutdown role and chip in on offense whenever possible," he said. "It's hard to compare to a guy like Brent Seabrook, but I see a little of myself in him."
• Follow Mike Spellman on Twitter@dhspellman.