PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Johansen has spent almost his entire hockey life in the middle of the ice. But it's a move to the wing that earned him a permanent spot in the NHL.
The fourth pick of the 2010 NHL Draft as a center, Johansen started this season in the middle, but since his move to the wing, his play has improved dramatically.
"We watched him play a few games, some exhibition games, in the middle and felt at this time it's too big a responsibility," said Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel. "We didn't get to see his offense, we didn't get to see him play with the puck like we know he can. He was really trying hard to learn the game and not make mistakes defensively that it took away from the offensive side. We threw him on the wing and we think he's blossomed over there e offensively. We started to see what he can do."
After totaling just 1 assist in his first five games, Johansen has 3 goals and an assist in his last five. In the Jackets' two wins this season, Johansen has the game-winning goal.
"To play in the NHL on the wing is pretty different," Johansen told NHL.com. "I just had to learn a couple new things quickly. It wasn't too hard to adjust. Feel pretty comfortable there now. I feel confident with the puck when it comes around the boards or if I receive it on the half wall. I'm not worried about it."
It's a big change from last season for Johansen, who admitted to being overwhelmed by his surroundings when he got to training camp last year.
"When I was first drafted and moving on to my first camp, it was kind … I was in shock the whole time," he said. "I ended up playing against (Sidney) Crosby and (Alex) Ovechkin in exhibition games and my eyes were wide open the whole time. I was having so much fun being around."
He was returned to his junior team, the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, and had an outstanding season -- 40 goals in 63 games -- and went back to Columbus this summer with a new mindset.
"This year I felt I had a really strong chance of making the team," he said. "I'm just focused on winning more than who I was playing against."
His teammates have started to take notice of how the 6-foot-3, 203-pound forward is beginning to blossom.
"He's getting better every day," R.J. Umberger told NHL.com. "He's starting to learn he's got a lot of size and he can use it. He's stronger than he thinks and he's moving his feet more and creating a lot of things below the goal line with his size.
"The challenge for him is just learning to compete every night. It's a hard league. For him, he knows he can play here and contribute."
"Every day it seems like I'm learning new things being up here," said Johansen. "For myself, I'm just taking everything in right now, soaking it all up. It's been a tremendous experience so far. Hopefully we can start winning some more games here."
On a personal note, it was the first time I've seen Johansen since he was drafted in Los Angeles. He and his Portland teammate, Islanders forward Nino Niederreiter, were part of one of my favorite videos since I've been with the NHL. It's worth watching to get some nice insight into two young men with wonderful personalities.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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