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Future is now, as Jackets' Johansen adjusts to NHL

by Corey Masisak
COLUMBUS -- There is enough facial hair just below the bottom lip of Ryan Johansen to qualify as a solid effort growing a soul patch, but certainly not enough to mask his status as the youngest guy in Columbus Blue Jackets' dressing room.

He was 19 years old when his rookie season began, and he's got another six months to go as a teenager. Johansen represents hope in Columbus for a franchise that thought 2011-12 would be the big breakthrough. It hasn't worked out that way, but the broad-shouldered kid from British Columbia has done enough in his first NHL campaign to get people excited about what he should accomplish in the seasons to come.

"You can tell he's a talented player," Blue Jackets forward Antoine Vermette said. "He makes good plays. For a player of that age to show that composure the ways he shows at some points, it is pretty impressive in the League."

Johansen was the fourth pick in the 2010 Entry Draft. If that didn't bestow enough expectations on him, he was named to the all-star team at the 2011 World Junior Championship after collecting 3 goals and 9 points in the tournament.

He made the Columbus roster during training camp, and was among the preseason contenders for the Calder Memorial Trophy given to the League's top rookie. Johansen's freshman season in the NHL has been a mixed bag, but a few nights of brilliance have been sprinkled in and there are flashes of the franchise center he has the potential to become.

"He's 19 years old and he's playing against men," said Columbus interim coach Todd Richards, who was with the team all season as an assistant before replacing Scott Arniel earlier this month. "I think it is what you see a lot of times with young players. There's two games where he's really good and then maybe two games where he's not so good.


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"Getting him to play with the urgency every shift is another thing. You find with kids coming out of college and coming out of junior that they tend to pace themselves because they are used to playing 30 minutes a night, and they spend two minutes out on the power play and they go hard when they need to go hard. You can't do that at this level. You watch guys and their shift lengths are 40 seconds, 45 seconds, sometimes less than that. It is because you're going hard all the time, and that's the way the game is now. Ryan's not alone with that -- I've had other young players in other organizations, and you try to teach them those things. Usually you're doing that at the American League level, but he's going through those growing pains on the big stage at this level."

For the season, Johansen has 7 goals and 15 points in 38 games. He's had four multi-point games, including a pair of two-goal contests.

Johansen's role with the Blue Jackets has fluctuated throughout the season. He's spent time on all four lines and with just about every other forward on the roster. He's averaging a little more than 13 minutes of ice time per game, but he's at almost 16 minutes per night since Richards took over -- though that was only three games ago.

"I feel like there have been some games where I played really good, but I wasn't getting rewarded with a goal or an assist," Johansen said. "I've had some games where I haven't been good and haven't competed at the level I need to. Then there's some games where I do good and I'm really helping the team on the first or second line and being a good impact on the ice. The main thing for me is just keeping my consistency and maintaining the same compete level and battle level so I can contribute as much as possible."

Added Richards: "It is all dependent on him. I challenged him a little bit after the Phoenix game [Friday], and I think he responded [Saturday] against San Jose. I thought it was one of his better games. He was more engaged and more committed physically. He's 19 years old, but he's built like a man. You look at his shoulders, and I [begin] to think what he's going to look like when he's 26 or 27. He's real big as a 19-year-old. It is getting that commitment on a consistent basis."

Johansen will represent Columbus at the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game weekend in Ottawa later this month. He's one of the 12 rookies selected to participate in the various skills events on the day before the game.

His mother and a couple of close friends -- one from his hometown in Vancouver and another from much closer to Ottawa in Guelph, Ont., will be joining him for the festivities. Johansen said he'll know a couple guys there -- he's skated during the offseason with Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and adorned the Canadian sweater at the WJC with Philadelphia's Sean Couturier.

There will also be at least a few older players there he's excited to spend some time with.

"You can go through the whole team," Johansen said. "I'll be looking around the room with my eyebrows to the ceiling the whole time. It will be pretty cool to walk in that room and see so many heroes basically from when I was growing up."

His big moment is likely to come in the shootout competition. Other young players in the past have tried to keep it simple to save face in front of the League's luminaries, but Johansen might have other ideas.

"I have been thinking about it a little bit," Johansen said. "They haven't told us what we're doing yet. My brother's been telling me a couple moves that he likes. I think I'll be trying something crazy for the fans. It should be a fun time."
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