Jerseys were flying off the shelves. The Nashville Predators thought they were finally getting that number one centerman they needed and the Columbus Blue Jackets landed a big gun on the back end.
The one-for-one blockbuster trade that sent All-Star center Ryan Johansen to Nashville in exchange for highly-touted defenseman Seth Jones took place on Jan. 6, 2016. At the time, the trade seemed perfect for each team. Both players were young, fourth-overall picks in their draft class with a few successful seasons under their belt. Predators fans were ecstatic with the acquisition of the 23-year-old.
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At the time, the team’s top centers were Mike Fisher and Mike Ribero both well past their prime. The Predators hadn’t had a bona fide number one center since Peter Forsberg for a brief period in 2006-07. With their surplus of defensemen, they had arguably the best backend in the NHL including Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Parting ways with Jones at the time was affordable for the boys in blue and gold.
Johansen in Smashville
It only took a season and a half for Johansen to become the alternate captain in Nashville promptly after the team’s 2017 Cup run. In those Stanley Cup Playoffs, he played some of the best hockey of his life. Unfortunately, in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final, his playoffs ended with a thigh injury. In 14 playoff games, he averaged just under a point per game with 3 goals and 10 assists. This prompted the Predators to extend his contract which will pay him $64 million over 8 years.
However, after his first season with the Predators, Johansen received a lot of negative feedback. He wasn’t scoring as much as the team would have liked because he was failing to shoot the puck, and his shot was a major factor in his past success. Former teammates Nick Foligno and Scott Hartnell recognized that their ex center passed just a little too much,
He’s got offensive ability like not a lot of guys in this league. … I know that he’s a type of guy that sometimes can just get himself in those positions to score, but then looks for that pass. It causes him some troubles,Nick Foligno (from ‘Predators’ Ryan Johansen trying to live up to team-record contract,’ The Tennessean, 11/13/2017).
In three full seasons and two half seasons with the Preds, he has failed to hit the 20-goal mark, a feat he hasn’t accomplished since the 2014-15 season. However, now age 27, he has had a much bigger impact on the success of the team.
The Vancouver native is typically on a line with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson who are two of the team’s top scorers. This line, at least for a few seasons, was one of the most effective in hockey and became known as the JoFA line. Arvidsson and Forsberg both put up fantastic numbers when centered by Johansen. The two Swedes each put up over 25 goals in each season together and Arvidsson had back-to-back 61-point campaigns.
Although, after signing All-Star center Matt Duchene during the offseason, Johansen has been slotted down to the number two center and the JoFA line has seen less action together. Typically, Calle Jarnkrok and Arvidsson are with Johansen. Both Jarnkrok and Arvidsson notched 15 goals and, along with Johansen, were heading for the 20-goal marker this season. Johansen has become more of a set-up man, a dish master, and has worked on his two-way game. If you look closely at his season-to-season numbers, his assists almost double his number of goals per season. Here’s a breakdown:
These splits show just how much of a playmaker Johansen has become, and before the stoppage of play due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 27-year-old had already tied his career-high of 14 goals in a Predators uniform. Without the abrupt pause to the season, he likely would have surpassed, or at the very least, hit that 20-goal mark again. Although these are good numbers, and he has proven to be a perfect fit in Nashville, letting go of Jones meant letting go of a future Norris Trophy (league’s top defenseman) caliber player.
Jones in Columbus
Jones has really made a name for himself in the last few seasons. Since joining the Blue Jackets in the 2015-16 season, the Arlington, Texas native has notched 45 goals and 150 assists in 325 games. The highly-regarded D-man was selected for his fourth straight All-Star Game this season and continues to headline Norris candidates.
The 25-year-old has already become an alternate captain and there is a good chance he will be named the next team captain when Foligno parts ways with the team either via retirement or trade.
What Could Have Been
Some will argue that the Predators should have kept Jones and either not traded for Johansen or traded for another defenseman. Ellis could have been a viable option for the nifty center. Like Jones, Ellis is an elite offensive defenseman who, at the time of the trade, had tremendous potential. The 29-year-old hasn’t quite had the opportunity to reach his full potential under the shadows of former captain Shea Weber and current captain Roman Josi.
Another alternative trade piece could have been Ekholm who, also at the time, was a stay at home defenseman, but since then has flourished into a more offensive defenseman putting up 44 points last season.
Nobody can know for certain what would have happened in Nashville or Columbus if the trade had never gone through. Would Jones be a constant Norris Trophy contender in Nashville or would he, like Ellis, be cast into the shadow of the Preds’ superstars? Would Johansen have gotten back on track in Columbus and carried the team in the goal-scoring column or would he have faded away and dropped down to a third-liner? We will never know. But it like things turned out just fine for Johansen and Jones, at least so far.