Ryan Johansen has already made an impact in his short time with the Nashville Predators. The 23-year-old center came over from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for defenseman Seth Jones on Jan. 6. Johansen has paid immediate dividends with three goals and six assists and has rewarded Predators general manager David Poile’s gamble on picking up the young pivot.
Nashville lost the first few games when the top-center came over, but now have a two-game winning streak and are two points out of the last Wild Card spot in the Western Conference that is now held by the Minnesota Wild.
The Predators are in a tougher fight for a playoff spot than projected, but the Canadian center has fit in nicely in the Music City for a number of reasons.
Wind Beneath the Wings
One of the first things you notice with Johansen being on the ice is the improved play of any of the wing players. When the Predators acquired the center, it was announced that James Neal and Colin Wilson would be on the top line with him. The injury to Wilson has forced Nashville to bring in speedy Swiss winger Kevin Fiala from the Milwauee Admirals of the American Hockey League.
Johansen and Neal have already worked quickly to become a two-headed scoring monster that the Predators have lacked for years. The two of them fit together because one is a 70-point producer (Johansen) and the other has scored 20-plus goals eight times (Neal).
Neal puts the most shots on net (3.21 game according to Sporting Charts) and loves having a creative center getting him the puck. You can see that the winger has a little more pep in his step, and is loving the chance to get more pucks on the net.
There also might be opportunities for him to play with Filip Forsberg, Craig Smith and the other wings if the coaching staff shuffles things around. They could use some of that playmaking magic that “RyJo” provides.
Face Off Help
One thing the Predators desperately needed was help winning draws and that’s something Johansen has done in spades. He’s tied with teammate Mike Fisher with 384 faceoff victories and has a 53.2-percent success rate as of Jan. 25.
Nashville was concerned about this going into the season and they still are 23rd in win ratio going into Monday’s games. However, the Predators have crept their way up the rankings. Johansen, Fisher and Paul Gaustad will need to win the big draws in crunch time.
A Change Will Do You Good
It’s no secret that Johansen’s time in Columbus came to an unceremonious end because of the strained relationship with new coach John Tortorella. Johansen didn’t score a goal in his last 15 games with the Blue Jackets, but his first shot with the Predators was a memorable one as he scored on his first shift Jan. 8 against the Colorado Avalanche.
His offensive numbers have trended up since the deal, and he’s been the front line center that Nashville has sought since the franchise’s inception.
It also seems that he’s having fun on the ice. The pressure to produce is still on, but he relishes the opportunity at being the number one guy. The Vancouver native sank down the lineup and was even benched by Tortorella. However, things are very different under Predators’ coach Peter Laviolette. The bench boss said as much to Adam Vingan of The Tennessean before Saturday’s 4-1 victory against the Edmonton Oilers.
“He’s a really smart player and in not a very large amount of space on the ice, he can make a lot of things happen,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “He’s got a high threshold for panic and he’s very calm and slows things down and with that he’s able to make plays.”
The Verdict on Ryan Johansen… So Far
Nashville’s offense has started to click better in their modest two-game winning streak. There is work to do, but the young center has been the answer to a long-standing question that Poile has finally answered. There’s plenty of time for the Predators to get back into a playoff spot that many projected them to get.
In any case, Ryan Johansen has fit in nicely in “Smashville.”
Dan Mount is a Nashville Predators staff writer for The Hockey Writers. He is on Twitter https://twitter.com/DanMountSports.
Covered hockey since attending SUNY Oswego in Upstate New York in the early 2000s. Has written about college, major junior and professional hockey for the last five years.
Resides in Watertown, NY.