Ryan Johansen has been in the news lately.
In 2015-16, the young budding star of a centre was dealt to the Nashville Predators, with defenseman Seth Jones going to the Columbus Blue Jackets in return. This trade gave the Predators what they had been lacking for much of their existence: a legitimate first-line centre.
This season, Johansen made headlines as part of the Preds’ breakout JOFA Line, which terrorised the National Hockey League for the latter half of the 2016-17 campaign. With Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson on his wings, Johansen centred the most dynamic line in hockey, a line which shredded its opponents with a lethal combination of speed and skill.
And, just a few days ago, following a 5-3 loss in Game 2 of Nashville’s third-round series against the Anaheim Ducks, Johansen called out matchup nemesis Ryan Kesler in pretty spectacular fashion.
— Grady Sas (@GradySas) May 15, 2017
Some strong words from the kid. Kesler, for his part, did not take the bait.
Nevertheless, Johansen has been front and centre in the hockey world the past little while. And, halfway through the third round of the playoffs, it looks as though he might remain that way, as he is undoubtedly the best candidate to have his name etched on the Conn Smythe Trophy; to be immortalised forevermore in the annals of hockey history.
By the Numbers
So what has Johansen done to be named the most valuable player in the playoffs? Well, how about everything.
In 13 games, Johansen has 13 points – 12 of them at even strength. Even when he doesn’t collect a point on a given goal, chances are the offensive push ran through him anyway, such as on Roman Josi’s winning goal on Tuesday night. He plays the power play; he plays the penalty kill. He’s tied for third in playoff plus-minus at plus-11. And he ranks third amongst remaining centres in faceoff percentage, at 54.3 percent.
What’s not to like?
By the Advanced Numbers
All right, so maybe traditional statistics aren’t your thing. You’ll be please to know Ryan Johansen is slaying analytically, as well.
You want Corsi? 54 percent Corsi For. Boom, roasted.
“Yeah but shot blocking.” Fair point. His Fenwick For is even better, at 55 percent. Boom, roasted.
“Yeah but that doesn’t measure shot quality.” Fine. Johansen’s Scoring Chances For? 55 percent. Boom, roasted.
“Yeah but what about actual goals.” Of all the goals scored while Johansen is on the ice, the Predators have 74 percent of them. Once again, boom, roasted.
“But his PDO is 108.55! That’s just not sustainable!” Very true. But sustainability matters not in the playoff tournament, which is, in the immortal words of Thomas Hobbes, “Nasty, brutish and short.” Wait for it, wait for it…yep, you guessed it: boom, roasted.
Right, so: Johansen has a wide array of numbers that place him squarely in the elite of the NHL’s playoff participants.
But let’s also not forget that Johansen, as the centre for Nashville’s top line, has zero shelter from anything. The Predators get a good amount of offense from across their blue line, and secondary scoring amongst their forwards is similarly well-distributed.
However, this spread of offense means that, when teams are looking for one line to key in on, it’s the JOFA Line, no questions asked. And as the indisputable quarterback for the line, Johansen bears the brunt of that pushback.
And when I say pushback, I don’t just mean being shadowed by the most elite defensive players the opposition has to offer. I mean the slashes, the sticks to the groin, the headshots and the cross checks. I mean the vicious muggings in scrums. I mean the NHL’s utter negligence in enforcing its own rulebook.
— Grady Sas (@GradySas) May 15, 2017
But Johansen is no stranger to coming through in the clutch.
Big Games, Big Performances
Johansen made the tournament all-star team at the 2011 World Juniors with nine points in seven games, including goals in Canada’s quarter-final and semi-final matchups.
In the Western Hockey League playoffs later that same season, Johansen put up 13 goals and 28 points in 21 playoff games, including two goals and four assists in his Portland Winterhawks’ five-game loss in the final, to lead the WHL playoffs in scoring.
And, in the Blue Jackets’ heroic six-game loss in the 2014 playoffs to the high-powered Pittsburgh Penguins? Johansen came through again, tallying six points in six games.
The man doesn’t shy away from tough, pressure-packed situations. He feeds on them.
That all said, this deep in the postseason, there are many fine candidates for the prestigious Conn Smythe.
From Pittsburgh, you can’t really go wrong with any one of their offensive stars, from Evgeni Malkin, to Phil Kessel, to Sidney Crosby, to Jake Guentzel for some reason. Or how about the resurgent Marc-Andre Fleury, who everyone just kind of forgot won a Stanley Cup in 2009.
In Ottawa, Craig Anderson has been as stingy as they come, not to mention having to persevere through unimaginable personal difficulties. Or Erik Karlsson, who has very clearly shown this playoffs – on a twice-fractured foot, no less – that the collective wisdom of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association is incorrect, for he is just so very clearly the best defenseman on Planet Earth.
Ryan Getzlaf has willed his Ducks to victory in two playoff rounds, and has three points in three games to kick off the Western Conference Final. And the very quiet yet exceedingly dominant advanced statistics of Hampus Lindholm have to warrant consideration, as well.
And for Nashville? Well, their greatest asset is their team speed and style, but Pekka Rinne, except for Game 2 against the Ducks, has been utterly magnificent. Need proof? Look no further than his ridiculous .942 save percentage through 13 games thus far – including an otherworldly .855 against high-danger opportunities (all situations).
Undisputed in All Areas
But, for my money, the best player in the NHL this postseason, all things considered, has been Ryan Johansen. The way his team is structured, his line, with him running it, are on an island. It’s them against the best that other teams have to offer. And he has done nothing but rise to the occasion.
The Predators don’t have the forward depth of the Penguins. They don’t have the defensive style of the Senators. They don’t have the physicality of the Ducks. And their major strength, their exceptional defense corps, has done much to shelter Rinne.
Simply put, the Predators go as Johansen goes. And right now, they’re two wins away from going to the Stanley Cup Final.
(All advanced stats are thanks to Corsica. All metrics are at five-on-five unless otherwise specified.)
Peter Ferrell covers the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, with a side of jersey and logo (over)analysis, for The Hockey Writers.