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Slap-happy Zak Johnson leads the Eugene Generals’ power play

02/21/2013, 1:45pm MST
By Tom Robinson

Zak Johnson liked the way his slap shot has been developing the past few years. Now he is getting a chance to use it on the Eugene Generals’ power play.
“It’s something I’ve really worked on a lot, but I’ve actually never been given the opportunity to man the point on the power play,” Johnson said.
When Johnson scored a few early goals on slap shots as he entered the offensive zone, first-year coach Jason Smith decided it was something to try.
“Coach Smith put me up there at the beginning of the year and it has worked out great,” said Johnson, a 20-year-old from Libertyville, Ill., who leads the Northern Pacific League with 15 power-play goals, moving him within two of the Eugene season record. “I have so much confidence in my slap shot.
“I feel like I can put it on net and good things will happen.”
In addition to his power-play goals, Johnson also is second in the NorPac in power-play assists with 18.
Newcomer Christian Merritt has added strength to the penalty kill. When they are not on special teams, they are playing together, leading the Generals, who are getting hot as the postseason approaches.
The Generals are second in the Northern Pacific League but coming off a weekend sweep of the West Sound Warriors, who have clinched the top seed in the Cascade Cup playoffs, which begin March 5.
Johnson and Merritt each had three points Feb. 15 in a 6-5 win over the Warriors. Merritt had two more and Johnson one the next night in a 4-3 victory.
“We made quite a few additions at the trade deadline,” Johnson said. “We’re confident with the additions and the core we already had that we can make a real good playoff push.
“Christian’s a great piece that we added.”
Merritt was Eugene’s captain and second-leading scorer last season. He is also familiar with Smith, who he played for in New Mexico in the North American Hockey League two seasons ago.
After spending much of this season with the Laconia Leafs of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League, Merritt returned to Eugene.
Smith said Merritt is an even stronger player than he was when he made the lineup for an NAHL team two years ago. He gives the team a much-needed threat shorthanded. In just four games, he already has eight goals and four assists, including matching the team lead in short-handed goals (two) and short-handed points (three).
“He played a little bit of PK for me in New Mexico,” Smith said. “He seems to always have his stick in the right position.”
When they are not making the Generals dangerous on special teams, Merritt and Johnson are playing with Josh Arnold, who has also been with the club for just four games.
Merritt had a hat trick in his season debut with Eugene. Arnold put together five points in the new line’s second game.
Merritt is the center on the productive line.
“It’s real easy to play with him,” Johnson said. “I just give him the puck.
“He came up real clutch on the weekend.”
That is something that Johnson, who ranks third in the NorPac in total goals and fourth in both points and penalty minutes, has done often for the Generals this season.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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