NEW YORK -- The talk during the offseason got old, tiresome, played out. As the summer months dragged on, all Columbus Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen wanted it was for it to be time to put up or shut up.
"Totally," Johansen told NHL.com prior to playing the New York Rangers on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
Johansen heard people around the League -- a melting pot of executives, coaches, players, media and fans -- discussing and dissecting the Blue Jackets; what they could have been last season if not for a League-high 508 man games lost to injury, and what they have a chance to be this season with the addition of left wing Brandon Saad and a stroke of good health.
Stanley Cup Playoffs or bust this season, Johansen heard people saying. Look out for Columbus, was part of the talk. The 23-year-old center had people telling him that he, Saad and Nick Foligno could form the best first line in the NHL.
It was overwhelming and flattering, but also frustrating, because all Johansen wanted to do was get started in proving that last season was a fluke for the Blue Jackets, that they were better than an 89-point team and more like the group that finished 16-2-1 in its last 19 games.
"We never want to use it as an excuse, but we want to prove to people that the injuries last year were a distraction, the adversity we had to face," Johansen said. "We want to go out and show what we can do as a healthy team, that we can be one of the best teams in the League."
The early returns aren't good. The Blue Jackets have lost their first three games, all in regulation, including their season-opener in dramatic fashion, giving up three goals in the final 2:36 of the third period to lose 4-2 to the Rangers on Friday at Nationwide Arena.
Johansen has three points in three games. He, Saad and Foligno have combined for seven points on three goals and four assists after combining for 29 during the preseason.
"We have a pretty deep team that just needs to come together here," Johansen said, "and we want to do that as fast as we can."
Johansen talked more about expectations, the team as a whole, how he views himself and his place in the NHL, the line he's on and more in the following Q&A, which was conducted prior to the game Saturday against the Rangers, a 5-2 loss.
Here are five questions with … Ryan Johansen:
There's a lot of expectations on you and on this team. What is it like to finally go into a season with expectations, not only personal, but team-wise, that are high? It's got to be different for this team.
"Yeah, it is. I've always been a guy that when you have those certain expectations, it drives me. It's an opportunity. It's a great opportunity. That's what you want. You want the spotlight on you. You want to be a team and an individual that has the eyes on you, for people to see how you're performing. I think our team is in a great position right now just to grow and try to become the team we want to be. Right now, on paper we have a lot of good players and a lot of good names. Finally it's here and we'll try to find ways to become the team we know we can be as fast as we can."
In previous years, the feeling around the Blue Jackets was 'Can they get into the playoffs?' The feeling this season is 'The Blue Jackets should get into the playoffs.' Did you feel that in this room as well, both in previous years and now?
"If we weren't in a position in the playoffs at the very least it would be a very, very disappointing year, I think. It's different than in the past. It was always, 'Let's try and make the playoffs.' We never would say that, but that was always how it was in the back of your mind, 'Let's just try and get in there and then we can see what we can do.' But now with the group we have, it's unacceptable not to be in the playoffs."
Do you look at yourself now as a top guy, one of the top centers in the League, elite?
"You know what? I see myself, and I think hockey people and fans around the game, view me as a guy on the verge and they want to see a little bit more, a little bit more of that consistent, high-level of play. For me, that's what I am excited about going into this year. What drives me is being able to prove to everyone that I am at that level and I should be recognized with the best in the League. I see myself on the verge too. I'm just trying to stay humble with it as much as you can. You want to have that swagger of being one of the top guys in the League, and with the linemates I have right now there's no reason I shouldn't have my game at that top-end level."
Your line with Saad and Nick Foligno clicked right away in preseason, combing for 29 points. It seems to be working. Why? Why do the pieces fit together well?
"What we said is 'it is just preseason,' but it is something to say, the chemistry and how we clicked early on. We have been just a smidge off so far with our passing and stuff, but I think that's just the regular season level of play and we need to get used to that before we take off. But I can't think of one answer for why the pieces fit, and I've been asked that question a lot. Maybe it's just the way we see the ice, our hockey IQ, how we think the game, it's all similar. When you have three guys in sync, supporting each other, always in the right spots, working for each other, helping each other -- we all skate well, can pass well and have a good shot -- it helps to complement each other's games. It's definitely been nice. We've been searching for a third guy to click with me and Nick. It's definitely still early, but we can see it's there."
Other than injuries, what makes or breaks this team this year? What tips the scale?
"Just consistency. To be successful, we need the same effort every night. As a young team you get those growing pains and you're not the same every night. You can say that as an individual too. I've struggled with that in past years, which is a compliment to how great this League is and how many great players there are. You have to be on your game every night to be successful. As a team, if we're consistently putting in the effort, sticking to the game plan, knowing our roles and playing them, putting the team before ourselves than we should have no problem to have success with the group we have. That's the most important thing."