The Blue Jackets have experienced a bit of a reversal of fortune so far in the month of December, having won 4 of their 5 contests this month. Even dating back to the team’s abysmal month of November, Ryan Johansen has been an absolute revelation, unquestionably the Jackets’ best player, and often the most exciting player on the ice for either team. The third year pro is poised for a breakout campaign that could see him finish among the league’s top-50 scorers.
Johansen’s ability to breakout is nothing out of the ordinary, it is a story repeated year after year in the NHL. However, the specific means by which he has found success are by no means guaranteed. For as fantastic as Johansen has been on the ice, his success is as much a result of good fortune as it is of his play. What follows are the particular criteria that have helped make Johansen a smashing success through 32 games this year.
The Right Pedigree
The fourth overall pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft, Johansen clearly has the right pedigree to succeed at the NHL level. Considered a “raw” prospect through much of his career, Johansen opted against playing major junior hockey in his first two years of eligibility in order to preserve his eligibility for a possible move to collegiate hockey. By the start of the 2009-10 season though, Johansen had joined the Portland Winterhawks and posted a 25-goal, 69-point season. It did not take long for Johansen to draw comparisons to similarly sized (he stands 6’2” 192 lbs), superfluously skilled centers like Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza. Johansen’s promising start coupled with his raw skills and size catapulted him into the upper echelon of NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s rankings, ultimately netting him a top-10 ranking by season’s end.
Nonetheless, when the Blue Jackets took Johansen with the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, many viewed the pick as a reach. Johansen quickly dispelled those rumors by nearly making the Blue Jackets opening day roster in 2010, no mean feat for a player with one year of highly competitive hockey to his credit. Johansen further backed up the Jackets’ decision to take him so early in the draft with a 40-goal, 92-point campaign with Portland in 63 games. Over the 2010-11 season, Johansen also had the opportunity to represent the CHL in the Subway Super Series, and won gold with the Canadian National Junior Team in the World U20 Championships. He also happened to earn Tournament All-Star honors at the World Juniors.
By the start of the 2011-12 season, Johansen seemed a lock to begin his professional career with the Blue Jackets, and indeed he played in his first professional game on October 7, 2011. While playing relatively limited minutes among the Jackets bottom-6, Johansen finished his first professional season with 9 goals, 12 assists, and 21 points overall in 67 games, an inauspicious, if not underwhelming debut.
The Low Point
With NHL players locked out and the first several months of the 2012-13 NHL season cancelled, Johansen was sent to the Jackets’ AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, for the start of the 2012 season. While in Springfield, Johansen began to resemble the player he had throughout his junior career tallying 33 points in 40 regular season games. When NHL play resumed, Johansen was immediately recalled by the Jackets, however, he only managed 12 points in 40 regular season games in the NHL.
Following the Jackets’ narrow miss of the postseason, the organization optioned Johansen back to the AHL to get playoff playing experience with the Falcons. It is here where Johansen met what he readily admits was the bottom of his young career. After an underwhelming first round against the Manchester Monarchs, and after two exceptionally poor performances against the Syracuse Crunch, Falcons head coach Brad Larsen benched Johansen for the final two games of the series against the Crunch as the Falcons were unceremoniously swept from the conference semifinals. Johansen ended his first professional playoff series with only 1 assist and a -8 rating.
– Ryan Johansen
Hitting a low point seems to be a prerequisite for breaking out. It may seem cliche, but good players are able to bear the burden of a chip on their shoulder, the biggest challenge sometime is coming to have that chip. This season has been proof of just what Johansen should be capable of in the NHL, so long as he can keep his fire lit.
The Right Opportunity
Injuries have ravished the Blue Jackets roster this season, following Thursday’s game against the New York Rangers, only 8 players have managed to stay in the lineup for all of the team’s 32 games. With significant injuries to top-liners Brandon Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik, Johansen found an opening and made the most of it. With 25 points through 32 games Johansen finds himself as the unquestioned go-to player for offense on this Blue Jackets roster.
Even more importantly, Johansen has done it away from the powerplay. Of Johansen’s 25 points, only 3 have come with the man advantage. His even strength production demonstrates just how hard he has had to work to advance his game over the last 6 months. It is impossible to predict if Ryan Johansen can maintain his current pace, but while he is, Blue Jackets fans, fans of the game, should sit back and watch the emergence of a star.
Andrew is a professional student earning his Masters at WVU. He enjoys craft beer and watching open wheel racing. Find him on Twitter: @andrewroman.