Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Media
Former Cobourg Cougars star Justin Danforth has signed his first NHL contract.
It’s a one-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets beginning the 2021-22 NHL season, the club announced Monday.
“It’s a great feeling for me and my family. I’ve been working for it for a long time now, so to finally see it pay off it’s an unbelievable feeling,” Danforth, who played this past season for Vityaz Podolsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia, told Total Sports Northumberland. “I’ve had a lot of help over the years with great coaches and great teammates so it wasn’t just me doing this, it was a group effort.”
Danforth, now 28, played three Ontario Junior Hockey League seasons for the Cougars from 2010-2013 and was a fan favourite while registering 57 goals and 84 assists for 141 points in 131 regular season games.
“A big thanks to them,” Danforth said. “Cobourg is where it all kind of started for me. I met a lot of great people there.”
Growing up in Oshawa, Danforth said his minor hockey teams didn’t have a lot of success, but he doesn’t view that as a negative.
“That losing feeling, I had that pretty often growing up, but you learn from it and I guess that kind of makes you work harder and makes you try to change that around and find a way to win,” he said. “I think that really helped my game and helped my character to this point.”
Hard work has enabled Danforth to keep progressing to higher levels of hockey during his career.
Following his three-year junior A stint with the Cougars, Danforth played four years of NCAA Div. 1 hockey at Sacred Heart University. He turned pro after graduation and gained American Hockey League experience with the Rochester Americans and Bridgeport Sound Tigers and also played ECHL games for the Cincinnati Cyclones and Reading Royals.
Danforth signed with Lukko Rauma of Liiga, the Finnish Elite League, in 2018 and played two seasons there. After a strong first season with 18 goals and 34 assists in 59 games, his 2019-2020 campaign was even better. He produced 27 goals and 33 assists for 60 points in 56 games and won the Lasse Oksanen Award as the league’s best player, the Golden Helmet as top scorer and was named to the league’s All-Star Team.
Danforth also won the Spengler Cup with Canada that season.
Vityaz Podolsk signed Danforth to a KHL contract for 2020-21 and he continued showcasing his offensive prowess, scoring 23 goals while earning 32 assists for 55 points in 58 games. He ranked fifth in the league in power play goals (12), sixth in points, seventh in goals and 11th in assists. He led Vityaz Podolsk in each category.
“When you change leagues it’s always a different style of hockey and a different culture so it takes some getting used to for the first couple weeks,” Danforth said. “The hockey was a bit different than Finland. We had a great group of import guys that…kind of helped each other and made each other better and gave each other more chance of success. It was a great season, I learned a lot about my game and I learned a lot from other guys on my team. It was a great team we had and we had a lot of fun.”
The Blue Jackets organization certainly took notice of Danforth’s continued development.
“Justin is a talented, offensive player coming off three outstanding seasons in the KHL and Liiga and we believe he is ready to prove himself in the National Hockey League,” Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen stated in a release. “He has worked extremely hard to develop his game over the past five seasons and we are excited to welcome him to the Blue Jackets.”
Danforth will continue working hard toward his goal of playing in the NHL.
“It’s one thing to sign a contract and it’s another to be an impact player on that team and be in the lineup every night and be a guy that can help the team win games,” he said. “I guess you could say the work’s just beginning now. It’ll be a big summer for me, I’ve already started training and getting ready for the next camp. I’ll be prepared for it physically, mentally and I’ll enjoy the moment right now, but there’s going to be a lot of work ahead.
“That’s my favourite part.”