The old hockey adage is that one man’s injury is an opportunity for another. Judging by the performances of two Blue Jackets rookies, they have taken those chances and run with them.
Center Ryan Johansen and defenseman John Moore are former first-round picks by Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson (Johansen - 2010 and Moore - 2009) and figure to be building blocks for the franchise as it moves forward. Moore is currently in his second professional season having played last year with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons, and Johansen is in his debut campaign.
They’ve each made significant on-ice contributions to the Blue Jackets, and in the wake of recent lineup changes and injuries, have seen their opportunities exponentially expand.
Head coach Scott Arniel put Johansen on the top line with Rick Nash and Jeff Carter last beginning with last week’s home game against the Calgary Flames and the trio has been together ever since. Johansen picked up an assist on Nash’s first goal in Dallas and Moore’s last two games have been equally impressive.
And Johansen’s season started quickly, as well. His first three NHL goals were game-winners and has become comfortable playing on right wing.
“Life’s good on the first line,” Johansen told BlueJackets.com with a smile. “Carter and Nash are two of the elite players in this league, and they’ve proved that to people over the years. For me, being a 19-year-old rookie and not even halfway through my first season yet, to be playing with those two is pretty special.
“It’s an honor to be out there with them and playing for Columbus. I’ve got to keep working my butt off and create as much offense as possible to hopefully lead this team in the right direction here, and win some more games.”
Arniel said he did not have a specific matchup in mind when he put those three together, but has been encouraged by the way they use each other on the ice and take advantage of their size and strength.
If anything, Arniel said, Johansen may have extra room to operate because opposing teams still have to worry about Nash and Carter alongside him.
“Whether it’s Ryan up there or another piece, I don’t think they’re going to change,” Arniel said. “It’s still Jeff and Rick and they’re still going to be the best players out there. For Ryan, it’s new waters for him now. He’s got some elite players going against him, too, and they’re going to play him hard.
“As far as consistency, I thought Ryan was very good in Dallas but I didn’t think he was very good last game. But that’s all part of the process of putting shifts together and games together and playing at that one level all the time.”
For Moore, becoming a consistent player has been his number one goal since the start of the season. His high-end skating ability and puck movement have been evident since prior to being drafted by the Blue Jackets, but he has worked hard at rounding out his game.
“I’d like to think I’m building,” Moore told BlueJackets.com. “Making the jump to the NHL is a big step, especially for a young defenseman. You have to make sure you’re keeping your game simple and making that first pass.
“For me, I think it’s just comfort level. The more games I’m playing up here, the more situations I’m seeing and you get more comfortable.”
He struggled at times during his first professional season in Springfield, but after being recalled to Columbus earlier this season, he’s been one of the team’s best defensemen and is playing in all situations. On New Year’s Eve against the Washington Capitals, Moore scored a goal off the rush and drew big minutes against Alex Ovechkin, logging 19:36 total.
“I think he’s come a long way,” Arniel said. “The other night without (Nikitin) and the first game without Wiz, everyone’s minutes went way up again. Johnny made a couple of really nice plays, but made a couple of bad reads too.
“But that’s part of youth, and where he is now compared to two months ago, I think he’s really made strides.”
Aside from the Capitals game in which he scored a goal, Moore’s best game of the season was probably last week in Dallas. He picked up two assists in that game, including making a great play for the primary helper on Antoine Vermette’s game-winning tally.
He picked up the puck at the left faceoff circle, backpedaled and walked the line to create a shooting lane toward the net. Moore’s wrist shot got through to Kari Lehtonen and Vermette was on the door step to deposit the rebound.
Though he’s putting up points of late, Moore wants to ensure this opportunity becomes permanent by playing a complete game and putting his own zone first.
“It’s definitely an opportunity, but you’ve got to be confident out there and can’t second-guess yourself,” Moore said. “Especially going on the road here, the other team will have last change and be able to control the matchups.
“I’ll be ready for it and be aware, and make sure defense comes first against those high-profile guys.”