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Blue Jackets' Johansen practices, status uncertain

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- At the same time center Ryan Johansen was preparing for his first practice since signing a new contract Monday, teammate Brandon Dubinsky was undergoing abdominal surgery in Philadelphia that could keep him out for six weeks.

Just another day of drama for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Johansen was ribbed by his teammates when he got to Nationwide Arena on Wednesday morning after staying at home in Vancouver until agreeing to a three-year, $12 million contract Monday.

"We're excited to have him back," left wing Scott Hartnell said. "It's good to see his goofy little face around the dressing room."

Johansen was all smiles as he took his first line rush with Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson and at times exhibited the deft touch and vision that helped him lead the Blue Jackets last season with 33 goals and 63 points.

But Johansen also was winded while his teammates who endured preseason camp breezed through the workout.

"If he wasn't huffing and puffing I'm going to start training in Vancouver," Atkinson said.

Johansen's fitness, or lack thereof, will factor into whether he plays the season opener Thursday at the Buffalo Sabres.

"You could see there were a few things hard for him based on the other guys that spent 2-3 weeks here," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "It's going to take a little bit of time. He's not going to step right in and be up to speed based on him practicing with a junior team [in Vancouver]."

Richards and his staff must consider if the best way for Johansen to get in shape quickly is to play games. It’s also the best chance for him to get injured. The Blue Jackets' second game is Saturday at home against the New York Rangers.

"I know he's going to want to play, but as coaches and an organization we have to make the right call," Richards said. "We haven't finalized it."

Center Mark Letestu wants Johansen in the lineup against the Sabres if possible.

"He gives us the best chance to win," Letestu said.

What the Blue Jackets don't need is Johansen to get injured to add to their woes. His projected linemates Nathan Horton (back) and Boone Jenner (broken hand) are out for extended periods. Horton is unable to practice and Jenner, who missed the final two preseason games after getting hurt, is expected to return in four weeks.

Defenseman Ryan Murray (knee) missed the preseason and will not play Thursday but could be ready by Saturday.

"The injuries haven't put us down," Letestu said. "We're excited to get the season started and pick up where we left off."

Dubinsky came into camp in great shape but struggled in the past week and had to leave practice Monday after 10 minutes because of discomfort. Surgery was performed by Dr. William Meyers at the Vincera Institute in Philadelphia.

Until Johansen signed, Dubinsky would have centered the top line. Last season he had 16 goals and a career-high 34 assists in 76 games.

Rookie forwards Michael Chaput, Marko Dano and Alexander Wennberg could find themselves with more playing time because of the injuries. The Blue Jackets this week claimed forwards Jack Skille and Adam Cracknell off waivers.

"Other players are getting to get opportunities because Brandon plays a real important role, logs a lot of ice time. Important ice time," Richards said. "It's frustrating. You'd love to have your full roster. You'd love to have Ryan Murray in. You'd love to have Brandon Dubinsky in. They'll come at a point during the season we'll have everybody in. For now we have to start with a little adversity."

At least Johansen is back, and his teammates expect him to use some of his new contract to buy team dinners as payback for missing the preseason.

"I'm going to order a nice bottle of wine," Atkinson said. "I'm going to make a six-course meal out of it; order a couple of appetizers. Maybe bring an extra main course back to my house for a late-night snack."

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