In four seasons as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Admirals, the top farm club of the Nashville Predators, Todd Richards had the chance to coach some of the organization's best prospects and help them grow into NHL players.
The list is a long one, too: Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne, Martin Erat, David Legwand and others suited up for the Admirals during Richards' time there, and it wasn't just a collection of top prospects -- it was a very successful hockey team. So when the Blue Jackets assigned Ryan Johansen to the Springfield Falcons this morning, there were historical footnotes for Richards to reference in his own career.
That Admirals team was a powerhouse, winning two West Division titles, making two appearances in the Calder Cup Final and winning the 2004 Calder Cup championship during Richards' four years there, and he's seen several players go through what Johansen is right now.
He needs to re-discover his game, Richards said, and the only reason he was assigned today is because of his play.
"I wasn’t sure if he was going to start the year here," Richards said. "He earned the right to be here, based on his play for the six days of camp and how he started the year. To me, there was a peak and I think it was in Colorado, and since then his game has been going downhill.
"We’ve talked with him, tried to help him out with his game but his game just wasn’t getting better. So it’s gotten to a point where he’s got to get his game back, and yeah, in all areas."
Johansen saw most of his minutes in Columbus centering a line with Vinny Prospal on the right side, and either Matt Calvert or Nick Foligno on the opposite wing. Though they didn't see the offensive production, the Blue Jackets coaching staff did see flashes of elite play from Johansen -- but the next step is for him to find it on a consistent basis.
"If you’re competing and battling, most areas of your game are going to be good," Richards said. "When he’s competing and battling, he has the puck more and it allows him to make plays in the offensive zone.
"This is all based on his play. We all sat down (coaching and management staff)...it’s based on what’s best for Joey. When Joey has his A-game, he makes our team better, without question.”
What Johansen now must do is make the Falcons an even stronger club. Springfield leads the Eastern Conference with 60 points (27-11-6) and is one point behind Grand Rapids for top spot in the entire league, and adding a player like Johansen will make them even stronger through the middle of the ice.
In 34 games with the Falcons, Johansen played big minutes in all situations (power play, even strength, penalty kill) and put up 14 goals and 27 points with a +11 rating. The presence of Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, who Johansen played extensively with to begin the season, figures to be a positive, as well.
“That’s about finding your game…it’s getting ice time and playing in all situations and playing a lot," Richards said. "He’s a young guy; what’s going to best for him long term? What’s going to be best for us long term and short term? We’d love to have him, but this is part of the process...we’ve got to make Joey better.
"We’ve tried some different routes up here to get some consistency in his game and it wasn’t working. So now, it’s the next option.”