Ryan Johansen admitted he had to take a second look after seeing himself in Nashville Predators Gold for the first time.
A member of the Columbus Blue Jackets organization less than 24 hours before, the Preds new, first-line center learned of his trade to Nashville on Wednesday afternoon, flew to Music City that night and then found himself on the ice at Bridgestone Arena with more than 20 new teammates Thursday morning.
“I basically gave myself an up-and-down look in the glass as I was skating around. It was pretty cool,” Johansen said following his first practice with the Predators. “[This is] a new opportunity for me. It’s a chance to take a big step in my young career while still being a young player in this League. There’s no better opportunity to come to a great team and start off on a top line. So I'm just excited to get right in there with this back-to-back.”
Johansen was slotted between similar power forwards, James Neal and Colin Wilson, during Thursday’s hour-long practice and also reconnected with a former World Junior Championship teammate in Ryan Ellis. The center and defenseman earned silver with Team Canada during the 2011 event.
“It was great, the first impression was awesome. The guys out there, I can tell we’ll be having a lot of fun, and it was a high-paced practice,” Johansen said. “If you’re a fan or a member of the media watching, you can see the joy out there for us being together. It was fun to jump right into things.”
“We made a great addition in Johansen,” Ellis said. “He does everything in the game well. He’s a big body, skates, shoots, passes well. It’s a good addition for our team and hopefully we can find some success with him… He’s got a great personality. It’ll probably take a couple days to have him shine through and kind of show his true colors, but he was always fun to be around. He likes to joke, likes to be in the action and it’s a good addition for our locker room as well as on the ice.”
For the 23-year-old, former 71-point scorer, Johansen says he’s eager to prove he can take another step forward in his development now that he’s skating for this second NHL team. An up-tempo player himself, the demands of Head Coach Peter Laviolette’s offensive system appear to fit the new Pred ideally.
“With talking with him early, it’s systems that I’m familiar with. The X’s and O’s aren’t too different around teams and throughout the League, so for me, it seems like he wants me to use my freedom, skill and hockey sense to make plays,” Johansen said.
Fast forward 24 more hours from now and Johansen will be in another new situation. A mile above sea level in Denver, Colorado, the Preds forward will again be wearing his new-look sweater. He’ll be surrounded by the former rivals he now calls teammates, but this time, he’ll be minutes from finishing the radical transition process that began two days before by playing his first game as a Nashville Predator.
“I believe in my abilities to be a successful player in this League. I just want to get back to doing my thing out there,” Johansen said. “Playing with Nealer and Wilson to start today, hopefully we can have some early success.
“This is a huge opportunity for me to take the next step in my career and hopefully build a championship team over in Nashville.”
After Extended Break, Bitetto Back in:
Predators defenseman Anthony Bitetto heard his number called a single time this season, suiting up for an Oct. 20 contest versus the Tampa Bay Lightning. Since then - over the next 78 days - he’s been attending each Preds practice, skating long after every morning skate, and most of all, staying focused and ready for his next opportunity.
The trade of former Preds d-man Seth Jones to Columbus has now created the opening the 25-year-old Island Park, New York, native has been awaiting.
“You go through a stretch where it’s definitely mentally challenging. You practice non-stop and the best thing is you just have to stay with it,” Bitetto said. “Now that the time has come, I think you have to make the most of it. [I want to] keep it simple and play the game I have my whole life.
“I think the coaches have done a good job of keeping me ready. [Strength and Conditioning Coach David] Good has done a good job of keeping me ready and in game shape. Going into Colorado, I’ll be ready tomorrow.”
A sixth-round pick of the Preds in 2010, Bitetto has remained with the club in Nashville all season, except for a short conditioning stint in Milwaukee, despite being on a two-way contract, because Nashville General Manager David Poile said the team was too worried to lose him on waivers. The Predators forethought to hold onto the young, two-way defenseman now seems to have paid off.
Bitetto said he’ll be ready to face a Colorado Avalanche team currently two points back of Nashville in the standings (with one more game played) on Friday night. During Wednesday’s practice at Bridgestone Arena, Bitetto skated to the left of veteran Barret Jackman.
“He’s been in the League a long time, and it’s pretty special to get to play with a guy like that. I’m excited, I think he is too. Like I said, keep it simple and we’ll see how it goes,” Bitetto said.
Full Practice Participation; Wednesday’s Lines:
Moments after the news broke of Ryan Johansen being traded to Nashville, members of the media immediately began to speculate on which Preds players he’d skate between. A few minutes into Wednesday’s on-ice session for the Predators, and the answer was seen.
Johansen slotted between Wilson and Neal on the Predators first line during practice, along with receiving time on the power-play unit.
“I walked in today and I saw the lineup; our lines are pretty scary now,” Bitetto said. “Him, Neal and Wilson on a line is pretty dangerous and it’s going to be exciting to see what they can do down the stretch and the rest of us too.”
Center Mike Fisher also returned to the ice after taking a maintenance day yesterday. Forward Gabriel Bourque, currently on Injured Reserve with an upper-body injury, also skated for the second-straight practice, giving Nashville full participation from all their rostered players.
Due to the high number of players, the Predators showed five forward lines, while defenseman Petter Granberg rotated as the extra blueliner.
| ||Forwards || |
|Colin Wilson ||Ryan Johansen ||James Neal |
|Filip Forsberg ||Mike Ribeiro ||Calle Jarnkrok |
|Miikka Salomaki ||Mike Fisher ||Craig Smith |
|Eric Nystrom ||Paul Gaustad ||Austin Watson |
|Gabriel Bourque ||Cody Hodgson ||Viktor Arvidsson |
| ||Defense || |
|Roman Josi ||Shea Weber |
|Mattias Ekholm ||Ryan Ellis |
|Anthony Bitetto ||Barret Jackman |