Ryan Johansen had his answer ready when he was asked if he’d thought about facing his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, for the first time tomorrow night.
“Oh for sure; it’d be funny if I said no,” Johansen joked.
All kidding aside, Johansen and his Nashville Predators host Seth Jones and the Blue Jackets on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena, the first time the two clubs have gotten together since a blockbuster trade on Jan. 6 that saw Jones and Johansen switch teams in a player-for-player swap.
The deal has worked out well for both clubs – Johansen has become Nashville’s No. 1 center and has seven goals and 25 points for the Preds since arriving, while Jones has tallied a pair of goals and 17 points overall with the Blue Jackets.
Johansen is looking forward with mixed emotions to facing his former mates for the first time. He’s never been in this type of situation before – having been traded for the first time in his career – but a win over the Jackets would make the reunion that much sweeter.
“This one would feel good to win for sure,” Johansen said Friday after Nashville’s practice. “It’ll be interesting seeing all those guys and being on the same ice playing against them. I’m looking forward to it now; it should be a fun night.”
The return to Columbus for Johansen will take place sometime next season, a return that he admits will likely bring some butterflies, perhaps making Saturday’s meeting a bit easier to handle with it coming in front of his home fans. And although it won’t be a “normal” game for Johansen, he’s still carrying a mindset into the outing.
“It’s just hockey; all we’re doing is playing hockey,” Johansen said. “I’ve been in the league long enough where I saw guys getting traded every year in Columbus, where they’re going out or coming in and you just watch them… It is what it is, and you’d be a little more nervous or a little more pressure on or whatever you want to call it, but you just want to go out there and play your game.”
On the opposite end of the ice, the Preds are looking forward to seeing Jones and catching up with the 21-year-old defenseman who spent the first two-and-a-half seasons of his career in Nashville.
“I’m happy to see him doing well in Columbus, and it’s going to be fun to face him,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “He’s such a good guy first of all, but also a very talented player, so it should be a fun night.”
“Hopefully he doesn’t do well tomorrow,” defenseman Ryan Ellis joked. “But in the future, he’s a great player and a great person. Anytime we get a chance to see him, it’ll be great.”
Ellis described the day Jones was traded as a “whirlwind” and confirmed Friday night will be the first time he gets to see his former teammate in person since January.
Count goaltender Carter Hutton as one of those also looking forward to seeing his former teammate, until puck drop, of course.
“He became a good friend being here, and I’m glad to see him go somewhere and get a good opportunity,” Hutton said. “He’s been playing pretty well, but I’m sure once the lights come on tomorrow night, there’s no friends out there, so it’ll be fun. It’ll be good to catch up with him and see how he’s doing. It’ll be a little odd seeing him in a different jersey, but I’m sure I’ll have a couple words for him, get him going a bit.”
The night will be memorable for both Johansen and Jones, but only one will come away with a satisfactory recollection. Johansen is hoping the reunion comes with two points.
“I know I’ll have a lot of family and friends watching this one pretty close,” Johansen said. “I’d just love to find a way to get a win.”
Let’s Make A Little Noise Here:
Many of the Preds’ players, as well as Head Coach Peter Laviolette, praised the energy felt from the crowd during Thursday’s 3-2 comeback win over the Vancouver Canucks. In particular, when Nashville scored two goals in less than two minutes in the third period to even the score 2-2, the decibel level within Bridgestone Arena skyrocketed.
For Johansen, who said Friday was the loudest he’s heard the building since he’s been in Nashville, the excitement and enthusiasm emanating from the seats is something he’d like to see more of.
“That was cool; that’s what it’s all about right there. The fans of this city and the Nashville Predators fans that were in the arena, recognizing how hard we’re working, and then us being successful on the ice and finding ways to come back in games,” Johansen said. “I can’t wait to see how it’s going to be in this next chunk of home games and in the postseason.”
Defenseman Anthony Bitetto (lower-body) was the only player absent from Nashville’s practice on Friday.
Line rushes remained the same as they have been, with Gabriel Bourque (upper-body), Paul Gaustad (upper-body) and Austin Watson skating on an additional line.
Shot of the Day: