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Johansen on track for breakout season

by Kristyn Repke / Columbus Blue Jackets
Despite being the fourth overall pick at the 2010 Draft, finding his stride in the NHL has not been an easy road for center Ryan Johansen.

“It’s been a roller coaster three years, for sure," said Johansen. "It seems like I've seen it all--from basically hitting rock bottom, to the team doing really well and going on a few big streaks, and from being last in the league to just barely missing the playoffs.

The team side of that roller coaster ride is what Johansen attributes to his individual play. "It seems like right now we’re starting to figure it out as a team and I'm getting on the right track as an individual. Hopefully that team success will lead to individual success down the road."

So far, it's translating. He's registered 20 points in 28 games, which is a 60-point season pace.

Let's take a look at how Johansen has evolved as an NHL-caliber player over the past three seasons.

Season One: 2011-12

GP G a p pim sog toi/g es toi/g pp toi/g sh toi/g RFOW% SFT/G
2011-12 67 9 12 21 24 99 12:44 11:00 1:40 0:03 42.99% 17.2

In his draft year, scouts said that the 18-year-old had the talent necessary to become an eventual No. 1 center; he would just need to find the confidence and put in the work to make that happen. During his rookie season, Johansen had to figure out where he fit into the team, as did the coaching staff. After being juggled around in different combinations, he was finally settled on the third and fourth line with Derek Dorsett and Ryan Russell.

"They’re more grinder-type players who like to chip-and-chase," said Johansen. "They're more effective at being physical and doing simple things to create chances. With them, I learned more about the defensive aspect of the game, and how to handle the puck in my zone and break into the offense zone, which really helped me be the player I am today."

Being on the third and fourth lines meant Johansen had to work for more opportunities to prove himself and rise in the ranks, and the limited ice time translated into limited production on offense. He realized that the points would not come easy--they had to be earned.

Season Two: 2012-13

GP G a p pim sog toi/g es toi/g pp toi/g sh toi/g RFOW% SFT/G
2012-13 40 5 7 12 12 84 16:05 13:40 2:19 0:05 48.18% 21.1

In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Johansen found himself a home on Columbus' second and third line alongside Nick Foligno and RJ Umberger down the 19-5-5 stretch that nearly led the Blue Jackets to their first playoff appearance since 2009. But, compared to his fellow 2010 draftees Jeff Skinner (Carolina Hurricanes - 107 pts in 146 games) and Tyler Seguin (formerly with Boston Bruins - 89 points in 155 games) in their first two seasons, in terms of offense, the abbreviated season was somewhat of a setback year for Johansen. In 40 games, he recorded just 12 points, despite his significantly increased ice time.

"I definitely struggled a bit early on that year," said Johansen. "As we started to put together the streak, we all started to improve and find ways to contribute. I wasn't satisfied with my individual numbers, but the team was doing well."

However, it wasn't just his on-ice performance in Columbus that held Johansen back. When the Blue Jackets sent Johansen down to play in the playoffs for the AHL-affiliate Springfield Falcons, the coaching staff benched Johansen.

"That was pretty much rock bottom," said Johansen. "I was frustrated, everyone else was frustrated. I decided I didn't want that to happen again."

During this past offseason, Johansen was prepared to turn things around and play with a chip on his shoulder, proving that he wasn't going to be another first round bust who failed to reach his potential.

Season Three: 2013-14

GP G a p pim sog toi/g es toi/g pp toi/g sh toi/g RFOW% SFT/G
2013-14 28 10 10 20 12 77 17:59 14:22 2:37 1:00 53.88% 23.3
13-14 projection 82 29 29 58 35 225 18:00 --- --- --- --- 24.0

Coming into the 2013-14 Blue Jackets training camp, Johansen was an inch taller and added ten pounds of muscle since the end of his last season. The additional size and vigorous offseason training proved that he was prepared to take his game to the next level.

So far, he has kept his game elevated while establishing himself as a consistent offensive threat with 20 points in 28 games. The consistency of his line with Umberger and Foligno remaining intact has also been key to his success and his line's overall production rate. Each month, he's improved his numbers on offense--seven points in October, 12 points in November to go along with his increase in TOI from 17:05 to 18:27--a trend that shows his game so far is worthy of additional looks in all situations.

"In this league, it’s really hard to stay that consistent and do well on a regular basis," said Johansen. "It’s going to take a lot of hard work on and off the ice and more focus on my end to keep up this pace, but I'm hoping I can keep it up and get more [points] than that [projection]."

Comparing the Numbers: Joe Thornton

Even in his prospect profiles, Johansen was compared to his idol and favorite hockey player, Joe Thornton, who currently plays for the San Jose Sharks. Both players compete with a similar mindset, contributing in all zones and excelling in the face-off circle.

"Having his name mentioned with mine is kind of crazy," said Johansen. "I grew up watching him and the way he protected the puck, made passes and created space for himself was so mind-boggling. No one else in the league can make plays like he does. He’s so fun to watch.

"For myself, I try to do the same thing when I have the puck—making those high level plays that are tough to make and doing it consistently. I want to be that kind of a player and I’m just trying to become as good as he is."

Let's take a look at Joe Thornton's numbers through his first three seasons, as well as his career totals:

Year 1 55 3 4 7 19 33 8:05 7:14 0:49 0:01 40.51% 10.4
Year 2 81 16 25 41 69 128 15:20 12:33 2:35 0:11 45.28% 18.0
Year 3 81 23 37 60 82 171 21:18 16:21 4:05 0:51 48.44% 23.3
NHL TOTALS 1,152 336 812 1,148 991 2,342 16:35 --- --- --- --- 20.4

Based on Thornton's first season statistics, he and Johansen had similar rookie campaigns. They had to prove themselves before they were given significant special teams time, and had to work their way up from the third and fourth lines by proving that despite the limited ice time, they could create offense and shut down the opposition's top scoring threats. Their second season ice time in all situations increased as they climbed the ranks and gained the trust of the coaching staff. Though Johansen did not have a significant improvement in offense generation during his lockout-shortened season, he contributed and improved in other areas--most noticably in his face-off win percentages.

Currently, Johansen is on track for a breakout season in his third year in the NHL--much like Thornton had in his third season. If the projections hold true, Johansen is on track for a 60-point season, which is just as many points as Thornton had in 1999-2000. The game is fairly different today than it was then, but if he achieves that mark, Johansen will definitely have made his case for solidifying his place in the NHL. 

“I don’t know, it’s tough to say if I'll have that kind of career," said Johansen. "I would like to do that. The way he’s been so consistent over that many years, not a lot of players can do that. That’s another reason why he’s so impressive to me. It’s his 17th year in the league and he’s always at the top of his game, leading his team. To get anywhere close to that consistency would be a great accomplishment for me.”

Below is Johansen's overall stat chart from his first three seasons, including his projection and NHL totals:

GP G a p pim sog toi/g es toi/g pp toi/g sh toi/g RFOW% SFT/G
Year 1 67 9 12 21 24 99 12:44 11:00 1:40 0:03 42.99% 17.2
year 2 40 5 7 12 12 84 16:05 13:40 2:19 0:05 48.18% 21.1
year 3 28 10 10 20 12 77 17:59 14:22 2:37 1:00 53.88% 23.3
13-14 proj. 82 29 29 58 35 225 18:00 --- --- --- --- 24.0
NHL TOTALS 135 24 29 53 48 260 14:51 --- --- --- --- 19.6


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