The Carolina Hurricanes traded one of their top prospects Friday, sending promising defenceman Jack Johnson to the Los Angeles Kings in a multi-player deal.
The defending Stanley Cup champions also dealt defenceman Oleg Tverdovsky to the Kings for forward Eric Belanger and defenceman Tim Gleason.
The Hurricanes selected Johnson, a 19-year-old Michigan sophomore, with the No. 3 overall pick in last year's draft. He's twice turned down offers from the Hurricanes to turn professional in the past year, which prompted Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford to entertain trade offers.
"This was clearly the best offer, and clearly the best for the Hurricanes," Rutherford said. "We've kind of gone back and forth — do we wait for the development of Jack Johnson, and when does that take place, or do we take a player now that's a good young defenceman who's going to be good for a long time? As camp has wound down, that was the conclusion we all came to, that now was the time to do it."
Johnson said the trade would not affect his timetable for turning pro and that he is concentrating on his upcoming season with the Wolverines.
"I'm here in Michigan, and that's where my focus is," Johnson said. "I'm excited about my new team, but my life isn't going to change because of it."
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said he supported Johnson staying in school.
"We were prepared to be patient when we made this deal," Lombardi said. "It'll be good for him to spend another year there."
Rutherford said he had decided last week not to trade Johnson, but then talks with the Kings picked up.
"We just felt that we're getting a very good NHL defenceman in Tim Gleason," he explained. "He's still a young guy, he still has an upside, and both of those players will come in and be with us now, instead of waiting for the development of Jack Johnson, who in my opinion is going to be a very, very good, if not great, NHL player.
"Everybody has decisions to make. (He) wanted to spend another year in school. I think that, in his best interests, for his development, that he should be playing pro now. He's ready to do that. The sooner he starts playing pro, the sooner he starts to develop into a real good NHL player."
Rutherford believes the Hurricanes received good value for Johnson.
"We got two players we feel made our team a lot stronger," he said.
Lombardi acknowledged that Belanger and Gleason could have helped the Kings immediately, but he wanted to gamble on Johnson.
"He potentially fills a position that's hard to find. These type players aren't often available at a young age. We felt we had to be fairly aggressive," he said. "The kid is a competitor. He's going to be every bit as good as he can be."
Carolina has been in need of blue-line help after losing defenceman Aaron Ward to free agency in the off-season and learning it would be without Frantisek Kaberle for up to six months while he recovers from shoulder surgery.
In Gleason, they get a former first-round pick who had two goals and 19 assists in 78 games during his sophomore season with the Kings. The 23-year-old, who will make US$1.2 million this season, was acquired by the Kings from Ottawa for Bryan Smolinski at the trade deadline in 2003.
Belanger, 28, set career-highs with 17 goals, 20 assists and 62 penalty minutes last season, his fifth with the Kings. He will make $1.3 million this year.
The Hurricanes included Tverdovsky in the deal because the Kings wanted an NHL-ready defenceman to replace Gleason, and Carolina was seeking financial flexibility.
The 30-year-old Tverdovsky is owed $5 million over the next two years. The Kings will be his fifth team in his 12th NHL season. In 687 career games, he has recorded 77 goals and 236 assists.