DETROIT – Greg Johnson, who played for the Detroit Red Wings in the early-to-mid 1990s, has died at age 48.
Johnson was drafted in 1989 by the Philadelphia Flyers at 33rd overall. He was a standout at the University of North Dakota in the early 90s and played for the Canadian National team, winning a silver medal at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Olympics.
He began playing for the Red Wings in 1993. His best season with Detroit, statistically speaking, was in 1995-96 when he tallied 18 goals and 22 assists for 40 points in 60 games. Johnson played an important depth role on those Red Wings teams until he was traded in 1997, right before the Wings won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 42 years. He was traded at the deadline to Pittsburgh for Tomas Sandstrom, who ended up signing with the Mighty Ducks in the offseason.
Johnson went from the Penguins to a stint with the Chicago Blackhawks, and then spent the last seven years of his career with the Nashville Predators, who named him team captain. You may recall he signed with Detroit again in 2006 but retired before the 2006-07 season when a pre-season physical showed a hereditary heart abnormality, forcing him into an early retirement.
'Best years' in Nashville
Johnson later called his time in Nashville the "best years of my life" in an interview with the Nashville Post.
"I was an average player — I was never anything special — but the best years of my life were here with the Predators," he told the Nashville Post. "To have a young family [at the time], amazing city, these were without a doubt the best years of my life. … In my heart, I'm a Predator and a big Predators fan."
He was definitely much more than an "average player." He was a well-respected professional who had a steady NHL career and people who looked up to him. In 785 career games, Johnson scored 369 points (145 assists, 224 points).
His younger brother, Ryan, played 15 seasons in the NHL and is now an executive with the Vancouver Canucks.
A cause of death is not being released at this time. Johnson was from Thunder Bay, Ontario. The local newspaper there reported Johnson died Monday in Detroit.
"Former National Hockey League player and Thunder Bay native Greg Johnson, 48, passed away on Monday in Detroit, according to friends close to the family," reads a statement from the Chronicle Journal.
He had been living with family in Rochester, Mich. and reportedly working in finance.
The University of North Dakota's men's hockey team tweeted: