TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.
-- The offseason acquisition of Jeff Carter
did a lot more than strengthen the Columbus Blue Jackets
down the middle. It enabled the organization to have a little patience with their top prospect, Ryan Johansen
Many believe Johansen, the fourth choice of the 2010 Entry Draft, will earn an NHL roster spot at training camp. However, instead of having the 19-year-old shoe-horned into a top two-line role, now he can be eased into what has become a pretty competitive environment up front in Columbus.
"We drafted Ryan because we needed to get stronger through the middle of the ice. He has an opportunity to come in and battle for a job on our hockey team, but at the same time he doesn't have to be one of our top two centers if he does make our hockey club. He's a talented kid who can play in a lot of situations." -- Scott Arniel
"Obviously, we're in a different position than maybe we would have been two months ago prior to the Jeff Carter
trade," Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel
told NHL.com. "We drafted Ryan because we needed to get stronger through the middle of the ice. He has an opportunity to come in and battle for a job on our hockey team, but at the same time he doesn't have to be one of our top two centers if he does make our hockey club. He's a talented kid who can play in a lot of situations."
Johansen is doing nothing to disappoint this week at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, either. He has a lot more swagger in his stride as compared to last year and it shows in his skating, positioning and determination.
"He needs to come to camp next week and do what he does best and make it difficult on us, give us a tough decision," Arniel said. "Obviously he can't go to the AHL; he can only go back to junior (WHL Portland Winterhawks), but I like what I'm seeing."
Rob Riley, coach of the Blue Jackets' prospects in Traverse City and the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, feels Johansen already has proven himself on every level he's participated.
"Whether it be in World Juniors or junior hockey, he's a tremendous talent," Riley told NHL.com. "He's worked very hard at it and Traverse is a great opportunity for him to showcase himself and gain momentum into main camp to make the team. He has all the talent, the work ethic is there. He's a very confident, composed young man."
However, Johansen isn't the only player who has caught Arniel's eye.
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"We've got five guys here, in my opinion, who are very talented in (David) Savard, (John) Moore, Johansen, (Cam) Atkinson and (Tomas) Kubalik; guys we'll play a lot in our exhibition season," Arniel said. "Most of them, with the exception of Johansen and Atkinson, played in the AHL last year and have a year under their belt. We want them to push hard on some people in our organization."
Defensemen Savard and Moore spent last season in Springfield. Savard had 11 goals and 43 points in 72 games, while Moore, who also was called up for two games with the Blue Jackets, had 5 goals and 24 points in 73 games. Kubalik had 24 goals and 53 points in 76 games for the Falcons. Atkinson had 5 points in five games with Springfield following a productive campaign at Boston College, where he had 31 goals and 52 points in 39 games.
"For them to come here and to see them one year older with more experience, that's what we wanted," Arniel said. "We wanted to see them take a step and they've taken a step with their training. Now we need them to get into good habits. These five guys are probably going to weigh heavily in our future."
The trade for Carter, according to Arniel, also should alleviate some of the pressure that was on many of the younger forwards already in the lineup.
"We've had to fast-track people in our organization, and when you do that, you're putting them probably in a position to fail," he said. "Putting people in when they're not ready to go isn't the way to do things. (Derick) Brassard is very young and had to start playing against the (Pavel) Datsyuks, Kris Drapers and (Jonathan) Toews' of the world and that wasn't easy. He had some injury situations, but the Carter deal probably puts Derick back in a situation where he can relax a little bit and still play with good players."
And finally, there's a good chance the acquisition of Carter and defenseman James Wisniewski
will also allow goalie Steve Mason
to return to his Calder Trophy-winning form of 2008-09 when he won 33 games, posted 10 shutouts and sported a 2.29 goals-against average. Over the last two seasons, Mason's GAA has been north of 3.00.
"Without a doubt, this is an important season and Steve knows it," Arniel said. "It's like being a QB or a starting pitcher. But I think his teammates can help because we're stronger now. We have a better lineup. It isn't just about Rick Nash
; we've got other weapons we can throw at people and hopefully that helps our power play. We've improved on the back end and that should lead to better play on the penalty kill and 5-on-5. That should take some of the heat off Steve so that he knows it isn't all on his shoulders -- he doesn't have to stop 50 shots every night. There's pressure, but as a group we also have to be better in front of him."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale