Please raise your hand if, in June 2010 you were fully prepared to hear Scott Howson say the name Ryan Johansen when he rose to the podium to call the Columbus Blue Jackets’ fourth-overall pick at the NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles. Now put your hands down, you liars. At the time, Johansen was rising among the ranks of North American skaters, but was still relatively unknown at 6’2” and 190-ish pounds and coming out of Portland in the Western Hockey League. He was projected somewhere in the top twenty, but Scott Howson took a chance on a kid he believed in.
Let’s face it; Howson and MacLean’s track records with first round draft picks had been infamously bad. When Jarmo Kekalainen took over for Howson last season, one of his first moves was to trade two other former first-rounders (Derick Brassard, John Moore) to New York in the Marian Gaborik move, which left Johansen as the oldest Columbus-drafted first rounder in the organization.
Nobody honestly knew what to expect from the surprise pick. The fanbase collectively got its first authentic taste of Johansen’s capabilities at the 2011 World Junior tournament in Buffalo where he represented Canada on what might be Canada’s largest stage for their up-and-comers. Johansen produced nine points in seven games in what turned out to be a heartbreaker for Team Canada after giving up five unanswered goals to Russia in the third frame to take home the silver medal. Still, we all had seen Ryan Johansen on the amateur big stage and we liked what we saw: he had a big body and he had relentless effort.
But it didn’t transfer to Columbus right away. After a second year with Portland (and 92 points in 63 games, and another 28 in 21 playoff games), Johansen became a full-time NHL player and produced 21 points in 67 games (0.31 PPG). However, after a hot first six weeks, Johansen struggled to produce consistently. Nevertheless, he represented Columbus as a rookie at the All-Star Weekend in Ottawa.
After spending the lockout with Springfield of the AHL (33 points in 40 games), Johansen returned to Columbus to play another forty games and was only able to produce another twelve points (0.3 PPG). Johansen had yet to reach that higher gear that he had shown he was capable of playing in. At the end of the shortened 2013 season, he returned to Springfield for their postseason run. It was then that the red flags began to rise. Falcons head coach Brad Larsen told the Columbus Dispatch that Johansen wasn’t fully invested and was holding him accountable for such by scratching him from the AHL lineup.
Trouble in paradise? Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: a Columbus draft pick who expects a cakewalk, refuses to hustle, ultimately dissolves off the radar completely. This couldn’t be happening again, could it?
When he showed up to camp in September 2013, Johansen was standing an inch taller and an astounding 222 pounds, much bigger and stronger than when he very first arrived in Columbus in 2010. The signs of promise were there – unbelievable bouts of explosive offensive pressure and complete use of his gift of size – but would it be sustained?
One third of the way into this 2013-14 season, Ryan Johansen has taken over as the club’s point- and goal-leader (10-10-20 – a 0.71 PPG pace). He also throws more shots toward the net (77) than most of his teammates. He stands fourth on the team in power play average time on ice (2:37) and is even averaging a minute per game on the penalty kill. His 53.0% faceoff win percentage is not quite the club’s best, but he has taken 464 of them this season – around 25% more than Artem Anisimov. He’s learned to do the little things and with that, the offense has come.
The Blue Jackets are depending on Ryan Johansen more often and in more situations than ever before. And so far, he has responded astoundingly well. Johansen is showing more frequent flashes of being the player the club anticipated when they passed on a handful of players to take a chance on him. He has shown that he is willing and that he is capable of reaching that highest gear, and this season could be the turning point in the budding career of the young forward. And he’s only 21.