ND high school goalie Kaleb Johnson gets chance to skate with NHLers

GRAND FORKS--Grand Forks Central goaltender Kaleb Johnson will play his high school senior year with the Minnesota Wilderness in the North American Hockey League.
Grand Forks Central goalie Kaleb Johnson tracks a shot by former University of North Dakota and current Winnipeg Jets hockey player Tucker Poolman (left) during pro camp practice Tuesday morning, Aug. 21, at the Ralph Engelstad Olympic Arena in Grand Forks. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS-Grand Forks Central goaltender Kaleb Johnson will play his high school senior year with the Minnesota Wilderness in the North American Hockey League.

While it will be a big jump in competition from the high school ranks, Johnson should feel plenty prepared after this past week.

Johnson was one of two high school players who were able to skate with current NHL players and other pros in a camp at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Because only one current pro goalie was at the camp, Johnson was able to fill the other net.

He spent the week taking shots from players like Nick Schmaltz of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jordan Schmaltz of the St. Louis Blues, Tucker Poolman of the Winnipeg Jets, Paul LaDue of the Los Angeles Kings, Christian Wolanin of the Ottawa Senators, Rocco Grimaldi of the Nashville Predators and former NHLers Corban Knight and Andrew MacWilliam, who both played in the minors last season.

Johnson said he had the most trouble stopping the shot of Luke Johnson, who hopes to crack the Chicago Blackhawks lineup at some point this season.

"It's been an unreal experience for me to just be able to skate with these guys and get the exposure with these guys," Johnson said after the final day of the workouts. "It was really good for me and it was really fun."

What was the biggest difference between their shots and the ones he faced in high school last year?

"Their releases," Johnson said. "And how quick they are and how fast I have to react to those shots. Their shots are 10 times quicker, too, but I got used to it as the days went on. That was the one big change I had to get used to."

Johnson is coming off of a terrific junior season with the Knights.

He led the state of North Dakota in winning percentage (21-1-2), goals-against average (0.99) and save percentage (.943).

He posted five shutouts in six playoffs games, including all three East Region games and in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the state tournament. His Knights won the championship over Bismarck Century 4-2.

It marked the second-straight season that Johnson won a state championship. He went 37-1-2 over his sophomore and junior years.

Johnson opted to take his game to the NAHL as a senior.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Johnson said. "I know the Wilderness have made the playoffs the last five years. I'm really looking forward to going to a program that's been really successful."

Johnson said he plans to skate a couple more times with Grimaldi this summer before heading to Cloquet, Minn., for his first year of junior hockey.

"I was stoked to get the opportunity to skate with these guys this week," Johnson said. "It was really cool for me."