It was four years ago when the Blue Jackets had to make a decision with their fourth overall selection in the 2010 NHL Draft.
Little did they know back then, but it would change the future of the franchise. Their selection, Ryan Johansen, became a top-line player on a playoff-bound Blue Jackets team and led the charge offensively with 33 goals (tied for 11th in the NHL) during the 2013-14 regular season.
The Blue Jackets, along with numerous other teams around the league, had their eyes on Johansen for several years prior to his draft year, as he kept climbing his way up the prospects list with his play with the Portland Winterhawks.
“He was a big, skilled, right-handed, good-sized sized centerman that could generate offense, and could do things one-on-one. He could make a good pass, had a great shot and could skate,” Blue Jackets assistant GM Chris MacFarland told BlueJackets.com. “When you add all of that up, it’s something that we had been craving on the middle of the ice forever, basically.”
Johansen was excited to be picked by Columbus, but heading into the draft he had no idea where he would end up — he thought that fourth overall might be a little high for him to be selected.
He remembers the experience from the end of his season in Portland to the actual draft in Los Angeles being a fast-moving and eye-opening experience. He said he was a part of several interviews where he had to fly down to NHL cities to meet with the management of certain teams.
“You’re meeting with all the teams, and it’s really just a big whirlwind, but at the same time it’s an experience that you’ll never forget,” Johansen told BlueJackets.com. “I remember Columbus having the fourth pick, and I thought that was pretty high, I didn’t expect to go that high. I guess I showed them enough that they would give me an opportunity to play for them.
"Leading up to those couple days before the draft, and hearing those rumors that I might have a chance to go there and whatnot, it was pretty surreal being able to go that high in the draft.”
He said he remembers a lot about the experience in Los Angeles surrounding the draft, but he doesn't really remember what happened after he got selected and walked up on stage and put on the Blue Jackets' jersey for the first time, as it was a moment he had been anticipating for his entire life.
“To be honest I blacked out and don’t remember a thing,” Johansen said. “I remember throwing on the jersey, putting on the hat, looking into the camera, and that’s about it. Then I walked over to James Duthie, where they do the interview as soon as you get drafted, and I remember that I was so nervous because you’re standing up in front of everybody in the whole arena. My mouth was so dry I didn’t think I was going to be able to talk.”
As Blue Jackets fans can agree, management has been very glad that they were able to pick Johansen in 2010, and they are impressed with his ability to work through peaks and valleys and become the player that he was this past season.
“Joey had to get stronger and had to go through some growing pains, and played in the NHL at a very young age, but with the work that he’s done in the past few years you could start to see the dots connect,” MacFarland said. “I think he realized some of the things that he can do, and physically he was on a level where it just started to click.
"The sky is the limit for him. Those big, skilled centers are hard to find, and Ryan is certainly a guy who really popped last year and is coming into his own. What’s really good and exciting for us is that he’s still just scratching the surface.”