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NHL Draft

Prospect Johansen hopes to be next in Kelowna D line

Brother of Predators center follows likes of Keith, Myers, Weber, Schenn to NHL Draft

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

Kelowna defenseman Lucas Johansen is surrounded by history every time he walks around his home rink, Prospera Place.

There on the wall, 12 feet tall, are murals of the great Kelowna defensemen who came before him with the trophies they've won. There is the Chicago Blackhawks' Duncan Keith, alongside three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals and two Norris trophies; Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators with the Memorial Cup and gold medals from the World Junior Championship and the Olympics; and Tyler Myers of the Winnipeg Jets and Luke Schenn of the Los Angeles Kings with World Junior gold medals. There are others, tracing a rich lineage of team and individual championships.

But Johansen, No. 26 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft, doesn't feel any extra pressure.

"I think it's fun to fill the [defenseman] skates in Kelowna with the rich [defenseman] history they have," he said. "You hope to one day be a part of that culture."

The 18-year-old, whose older brother is Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen, did a nice job carving his niche this season, with 10 goals, 49 points and a plus-11 rating in 69 games. He also had two goals and eight points in 18 Western Hockey League playoff games.

"I think the thing that stood out for me is how well he thinks the game," Central Scouting's John Williams said. "In his first season in Kelowna (2014-15), you could see the hands and that he had some offensive ability. This year, he really stepped up his defensive game and became a go-to guy for Kelowna in all situations. He makes a lot of subtle plays that help you get out of trouble in the [defensive] zone. He is not an overly physical player but uses his hands, mobility and brain to defend."

Kelowna assistant Kris Mallette, who oversees the defensemen, said Johansen made a big jump from last season, when he had limited minutes and opportunities as a WHL rookie on a team that advanced to the Memorial Cup championship game, to this season, when he was relied on as a top-pair performer.

Video: COMBINE | Lucas Johansen

"As a rookie, he was playing minutes behind some players that were well established in the Western Hockey League, the likes of Madison Bowey (Washington Capitals) and Joshua Morrissey (Winnipeg Jets). … He was only averaging seven to 10 minutes per game. But what he was able to gain in the year that we went all the way to the Memorial Cup was valuable experience watching those guys play.

"Fast-forward to this year, he was relied on heavily. He's one of three players on the back end that I had this season that had WHL experience. We lost our power-play guys and guys that would essentially go out and play against the top two lines. So he was thrown right into the mix. I saw him grow in all facets of the game. His minutes increased therefore his offensive output increased. His defensive game has gotten better. It's something he thinks he needs to work on more, and I would tend to agree. But offensively, the first pass and those facets of his game I thought have definitely improved with the more ice time he's received."

At 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Johansen knows his future won't be as a physical defenseman, but he understands he has to get bigger to succeed in the NHL.

"I need to get stronger," he said. "I'm confident my strengths will take me a long way. Just a matter of getting stronger to compete with those heavier, bigger guys in the NHL."

If he needs extra practice, he needs only to turn to his older brother.

Ryan is the reason Lucas became a defenseman, in part because of the five-year age gap between the brothers.

"Whatever we were doing in hockey, road hockey, he always had possession because he's five years older, and I always ended up playing defense," Lucas said. "Just something about having everything in front of you and being in control, that's the main reason I like being a [defenseman]. But he did have the ball most of the time against me, so I had to learn how to play defense because I couldn't let him score."

That competitive nature carried over off the ice as well, to their summer tennis games.

"That can get pretty competitive," Lucas said. "He's got me a little bit. He's got those long arms, so it's tough to get it past him. I'll beat him one of these days."

Besides motivation, Ryan also supplied advice for Lucas in how to handle his draft season. Ryan was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets with the fourth pick in 2010.

"Don't get overwhelmed," Lucas said. "Enjoy it. Make sure your focus is the same on learning and growing and improving your weaknesses. Keep your head clear and make sure you're on a steady incline getting better."

Johansen can see from the history that surrounds him in Kelowna on a daily basis where he can end up if he continues to grow his game.

"It can be exciting to look at and see and motivating and inspiring," he said. "Definitely inspiring to see those guys on the wall."

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