Ryan Johansen appears bigger and stronger coming into the 2013-14 season. The Columbus Blue Jackets hope that means he's ready to fulfill the promise that led them to make him the fourth player taken in the 2010 NHL Draft.
The Blue Jackets have been waiting for Johansen to become an impact player. They thought they saw signs of progress when he became a shutdown center during the late-season surge that ended with the team coming up just short of their second-ever Stanley Cup Playoff berth.
"I think Ryan Johansen took a step last year," coach Todd Richards said.
But a lot of those good feelings disappeared when he was sent to the Blue Jackets' American Hockey League affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, for the Calder Cup Playoffs. Coach Brad Larsen wasn't happy with Johansen's effort and benched him during the second round.
"It was tough," Johansen said. "I wasn't playing the way I wanted to. Nobody likes watching your team from the stands. I'll do everything I can to prevent that from happening again."
Doing "everything I can" includes filling out his 6-foot-3 frame. He's now a well-muscled 222 pounds and looks like a prototypical NHL center. Now he just has to play like one.
"I feel really confident in myself," he told NHL.com. "I feel I can step in and be an impact player this year. That's my goal, to be one of our top centermen. I think I bring a lot to the table and can help the team win. I just have to put my working hat on every day and do my thing."
Consistency has been an issue with Johansen since he joined the Blue Jackets in 2011. He struggled on a losing team as a rookie, but played well in Springfield during the NHL lockout last fall and looked sharp in training camp with Columbus in January. However, he faded after a good start and was sent back to Springfield for two weeks. When he returned, he appeared rejuvenated, ending the season with five goals, 12 points and a team-high 272 faceoff wins.
"I played the last 20-25 games with R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno," he said. "We played pretty well as a line and had some success.
"I got off to a bit of a tough start. But the last half of last year, in that stretch we had when we won all those games, I feel like I took my game to another level. I felt comfortable on the ice and comfortable with myself. It was kind of like when I played in juniors -- that sort of comfortable. I want to keep moving forward, take it one game at a time this year and try to be the best player I can be."
The Blue Jackets want Johansen to take his game to another level every night, and he knows more will be expected of him as he prepares for his third NHL season.
"There's definitely going to be a bigger role, and I'll be ready for it,” he said. "I want to earn a high role on this team, an important part. I'm trying to earn a top-six role and be an impact player."
Author: John Kreiser | NHL.com Columnist