If we did a November report card for the Columbus Blue Jackets, there may not be many passing grades that we would find. Ryan Johansen, however, is suddenly the difference-maker the Blue Jackets need to make the playoffs, and he carried the team through November with a line of 7 goals and 5 helpers for 12 total points. As fellow THW writer Matthew Souva pointed out earlier today, the Blue Jackets are about to get some answers that they have desperately needed for the first quarter-plus of this young season, and surprisingly, Johansen has become another of those answers.
But with Johansen’s meteoric rise to the top of the Columbus scoring list over the last 30 days, you have to wonder if he’ll continue to stay hot. After all, this young man (just 21 years old) scored 161 points in 134 games with the Portland Winter Hawks before joining Columbus. Those are enormous numbers coming out of the WHL the year before and after he was drafted 4th overall by Columbus in 2010, so we know he has the capability to put the puck in the net.
The Blue Jackets have what I would consider 7 50-point guys on the team – 6 forwards in Brandon Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik, Artem Anisimov, Cam Atkinson, Nathan Horton and either of Nick Foligno or R.J. Umberger, plus James Wisneiwski on defense. Let’s be optimistic and hope to get 40 points out of each of these guys this season after factoring in their time out due to injuries. To add in another surprising name to that list could potentially make them into the team that we saw win 19 of their last 28 games last season.
There are probably several reasons to think that Johansen isn’t going to keep up this pace. And don’t get us wrong – it wasn’t like he was putting up Alexander Steen (20 goals – 11 assists — 31 points on the season) or even Patrick Kane numbers (9-10–19 in November). But the guy carried the team for a long stretch of
awful mediocre games for the Blue Jackets in November. He may not have had a 12-game scoring streak like Kane, but Johansen was playing to his full potential and has now scored 7 points in his last 5 games.
So why won’t Johansen be able to keep up the pace? There is certainly a lot of upside and potential for this big, young forward. While some may have considered him a “highly-touted” draft pick, he’s no Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews or Alex Ovechkin.
In addition, this is certainly uncharted territory for Johansen. In 2011-12, Johansen had 9 goals and 12 assists in 67 games – his highest output to this point in his short career. It took him 40 more games to get to as many points points that season. Granted, this was his rookie year, but this season he has already eclipsed his career high in goals, he’s only 1 point away from a season high in points and we’ve only played 28 games. It may be tough sledding for him to keep up this pace.
Why He’s Going to Keep that Fire Lit
On the other hand, there’s a plethora of reasons Ryan Johansen may just have enough willpower and supporting cast to keep up this scoring streak. As we discussed before, help is on the way. With more key names to pass him the puck, he should become the target of many of their passes and be put in a better position to score. The likes of Dubinsky, Gaborik, Horton and the rest of the cast of characters on the Blue Jackets are going to be looking for the guy who carried them through November when they were all in sweaters of the warm, woolen variety, rather than game sweaters.
In addition to having more play makers on the ice, it’s conceivable that many teams will be overlooking #19 because the big guns are coming back. When all the highest paid Blue Jackets return from Injured Reserve, more skill on the ice means more for opponents to think about on a nightly basis. Teams won’t be focusing in on him, and Johansen should be able to find more space on the ice and thus find more shooting lanes.
And then there’s the effort. It’s remarkable. In Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s hard to say that Nick Filigno’s goal was anything short of miraculous, but it was truly the play just before that to set things up for Filigno that I was more impressed with. Check out Ryan Johansen’s hustle on the play. The effort to catch up to the Lightning defenseman was excellent – a play that doesn’t get made probably 10 times a game. Then to
strip absolutely rob him of the puck and put a pass on the stick of Filigno was truly a thing of beauty.
One thing is for certain: Ryan Johansen’s spark was much needed in November. The Blue Jackets went 5-8-3 over the last month – a simply deplorable record for the likes of the Western Conference. However, to the Jackets, the Western Conference is a distant memory. In the East, it’s just enough to keep your team in the hunt. A team that has alternated their last 10 games with 5 losses (some of the ugly variety), each followed by 5 wins (some in dominant fashion). The Blue Jackets are just 3 points out of the playoffs and with key players returning starting last night (Dubinsky), things are beginning to look up in Columbus.