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2010 NHL Entry Draft

Johansen picked up the WHL pace in a strong way

Friday, 03.26.2010 / 9:00 AM / 2010 NHL Entry Draft

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Johansen picked up the WHL pace in a strong way
Ryan Johansen had a pretty quick adjustment going from Junior A to the WHL, and NHL scouts certainly noticed his performance
Last season, Ryan Johansen played 47 games for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League.

This season, with the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks, he passed that number in the middle of January.

So to say there was a bit of an adjustment for the big center is an understatement. However, Johansen turned in a brilliant campaign and made himself a highly-sought after commodity heading into the 2010 Entry Draft, June 25-26 in Los Angeles.

The 6-foot-2 1/4, 194-pounder centered the Winterhawks' top line, and finished the regular season with 25 goals and 69 points in 71 games. He was second on the team and second among all WHL first-year players in points.

He also had a large part in Portland's rise from the WHL basement in 2008-09 to a 91-point season and a playoff spot this season. In three games of Portland's first-round series with Spokane, Johansen leads the team with 3 points.

Johansen's efforts earned him the No. 16 spot on NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters for the draft. But those lofty results haven't come without a bit of hardship.

"Around December he looked fatigued," Portland coach Mike Johnston told NHL.com. "He looked like he was waiting for that Christmas break because he needed to recharge his batteries."

After that short layoff, Johnston again saw the player that started the season so well.

"He has good on-ice vision and also angles well on the forecheck. He has the intelligence to play power play as well as penalty kill. He can be shifty and has the ability to beat a defenseman one-on-one. Once he fills out and gains more strength he could turn raw talent into a valuable center at both ends of rink. He has displayed nice playmaking capabilities and this should continue at next level." -- B.J. MacDonald

"When he came back after Christmas he had more jump in his step, more quickness in his backcheck," said Johnston.

The 72-game WHL schedule is a big change for Johansen, who had to learn on the fly how to take care of himself so there's no more bumps into the rookie wall. That means finding time for school, for off-ice workouts, for getting rest and proper nutrition.

"I think the biggest change is having to go every day," Johansen told NHL.com. "In Junior A we worked out once a week and we really only played games on the weekend. Our schedule (in Portland) is a lot more filled."

Johnston said the adjustment is as much mental as physical.

"It's a combination of both," he said. "There is mental fatigue because of the demands. These kids are going to school in the morning, training in the afternoon, and playing 3-4 times a week. It's a tough schedule."

Johansen has handled it as well as can be expected.

"He has good on-ice vision and also angles well on the forecheck," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald, who scouts Western Canada prospects, told NHL.com. "He has the intelligence to play power play as well as penalty kill. He can be shifty and has the ability to beat a defenseman one-on-one. Once he fills out and gains more strength he could turn raw talent into a valuable center at both ends of rink. He has displayed nice playmaking capabilities and this should continue at next level."

With his long, lanky physique and outstanding playmaking ability, it's easy to see a bit of Joe Thornton in Johansen's game, and the 17-year-old native of Port Moody, B.C., certainly appreciates the comparison.

"I'm a big fan," said Johansen. "His playmaking ability blows me away. I try to learn tips from him every time I watch him on NHL.com. He does a lot of good things well, but I'd say the biggest thing I try to learn from him is how he protects the puck and makes plays."

Johansen certainly has made his fair share of impressive plays this season, centering a top line with fellow top draft prospects Brad Ross and Nino Niederreiter. Ross saw his point total increase from 26 to 68 playing with Johansen, while Niederreiter had 36 goals in 65 games in his first season in North America.

"He's our playmaker," Niederreiter told NHL.com. "He makes good passes every time."

"This kid has a lot of natural ability," said Johnston. "His vision on the ice, his puck protection, he sees things on the ice that other players can't see. He is a very skilled playmaking center."

The players tasked to go against him agree.

"He's a big, strong power forward and extremely skilled and patient with the puck," Kamloops Blazers defenseman Austin Madaisky told NHL.com. "I can still remember this one play he made, where he came across the blue line, slammed on the brakes and sucked me to him and just made this no-look pass to Nino flying around him."

It's not that long ago, however, that Johansen was in Madaisky's place. His father, a big fan of Bobby Orr, started his son as a defenseman, a position he played until he got to bantam hockey, when he moved to center.

"I wanted more excitement in my game," Johansen said of his position switch. "I wanted to be scoring goals. Once the caliber of play got better, I felt I had to move up because I wasn't able to do as much end-to-end work, stickhandle through guys."

Now he just goes around them -- or, if need be, through them. While physical play isn't a hallmark of his game, Johansen is able to use his size as an advantage, especially when he has the puck, much like Thornton.

"Ryan has a little more physical play to his game," said Johnston. "When you try to get the puck off him, he'll hit back. Maybe he doesn't deliver as many hits. The physical play is when they have the puck they're really physical guys."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com