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Jack Johnson returns to face Kings in LA, but ‘it’s just another game now’

Harrison Mooney
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You'd think that Jack Johnson might be looking especially forward to Friday night's game in Los Angeles, his first return to the Staples Centre since he was traded from the Kings to the Columbus Blue Jackets last February.

It's always a gut punch to be traded, after all, and in Johnson's case, watching the Kings turn their season around and march all the way to their first ever Stanley Cup the moment he left had to be difficult. For many players, this is a game that would draw a bright red circle on the calendar.

But not for Johnson. "It’s just another game now," he told Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider.

If there were any strange emotions, they've worn off with time. The trade, which sent Jeff Carter to LA (a place where his frosted tips would be appreciated) in exchange for Johnson and a first-round pick, happened almost a year ago. Since then, Johnson has faced the Kings twice, both times in Columbus. "It’s not a surreal thing anymore or a weird thing," Carter said.

"I’ve already played these guys a couple of times, he said. "It’s nothing out of the ordinary now. I know a bunch of the guys. Obviously, I’m good friends with them, but…the novelty’s worn off of playing your old team. It’s just another game now.”

But it helps that Johnson was thrilled with the trade when it happened -- "over the top excited" was the quote last February -- since he had to suspect it would mean an increased role.

It has. Johnson is averaging a league-high 28:07 a night for the Blue Jackets, and again, that's just the average. He's broken the 30-minute mark three times already this season, twice in games that ended in regulation. On February 2 in a 4-2 win over Detroit, he finished one second shy of 25 minutes.

It's a whole lot harder to hold a grudge when you're appreciated and happy, and Johnson has to feel both after the way Columbus -- both the city and the organization -- have embraced him from day one. From the Los Angeles Times:

“I didn’t feel any emotional attachment once I got traded,” Johnson said. “I think that was due to people here accepting me with such open arms.

“It was pretty overwhelming at first, to be honest. I couldn’t believe it. I think that’s what made it so easy to turn the page and be a Blue Jacket 100%.”

If the old adage that "players just want to play" is true, then Jack Johnson got everything that he wanted.

Follow Harrison Mooney on Twitter at @HarrisonMooney

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