The Nashville Predators got their first line center and he was quick in making himself at home.
The Nashville Predators shifted the future of their franchise when they traded budding star defenseman Seth Jones for center Ryan Johansen around the midpoint of this past season. The effects of his presence have been written about time and time again on our site since donning the gold jersey, but here we strive to grade his individual performance as a Predator this past season.
Johansen had nearly the definition of a roller coaster season from start to finish- if that roller coaster were to suddenly jump tracks to another ride mid-loop. The first half of his season was spent in Columbus as a Blue Jacket, where there were swirling allegations of friction with his head coach John Tortorella after the 70-point scorer was benched as a healthy scratch for multiple games.
The 23-year-old skater denied any such negativity and had nothing but positive reviews for the Ohio club after learning he was on his way to becoming a Nashville Predator. Once embedded in the Smashville lineup, Johansen was quick to prove his talent as he headed the center position to the deepest playoff run both he and the Nashville franchise has ever experienced.
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Through time spent with both franchises, the center managed 14 goals and 46 assists for 60 total points and a +6 rating in 80 games. He achieved a faceoff win percentage of 52.3% and tacked on 8 points (4 G, 4 A) in 14 postseason contests.
With his first wrist shot as a Predator, Johansen won over Smashville. In the first three minutes of his team debut, he registered a first shot-on-goal power play marker. The center added to the snipe with an assist, earning two points in his Nashville debut.
The game was one of 10 multi-point efforts put forth by the center in 42 games in Nashville. So even while entering an unfamiliar system, Johansen was able to put together highlight nights nearly a quarter of his games played, finishing the season second on the team in assists, and third in total points.
Where to begin? He absorbed the top-line of the opposition, he looked sizeable yet consistently found space in the offensive end, and he demonstrated the abilities that have labeled him a true number-one center talent.
Johansen possesses a deceptively casual gait on the ice- it sometimes appears that he is simply floating through the motions until you glance at the stat sheet and see his name etched in a few times. These mannerisms have served to occasionally lull goalies to sleep, particularly around the crease when a pass is expected, yet the puck has quickly found its way into the net.
It’s sometimes nearly impossible to discern the line between Johansen’s deceptively casual play and play that provoked the hounding questions of work ethic and effort which followed the young player from Columbus. The phrase “almost a little too casual” could be applied.
Johansen appears to wear his emotions on the sleeve of his sweater. Sometimes this is a highlight, as a reel could be composed of the center’s goal celebrations which would brighten anybody’s day. But the youth of the player shines through negatively when taking undisciplined penalties and occasionally seeming to give up on broken plays. This should be improved as he grows beyond his young 23 years.
Finally, no matter how hot a line is playing, you don’t want to see your number one center relegated from the top line during the playoffs. The inability of that position to step up in the critical second round Game 7 accumulated with faulty leadership across the roster to send the Predators home in ugly fashion.
Season Grade: A-
You simply don’t turn around a franchise’s season and not earn an A. If Johansen’s 42 games in Nashville was adjusted to a full 82-game season, he would have earned an estimated 67 points which would have topped the team and threatened to break the 70-point mark for the second year running.
Add in the fact that it was his first (half)year in Peter Laviolette’s system and he played much of it with Calle Jarnkrok on his left wing- Calle being a very solid and still rising hockey player, but not necessarily what anybody would consider a point-scorer or even arguably a top-line winger.
The minus is indicative of the playoff demotion and what is still unfulfilled potential. The best part of that? I truly don’t believe Johansen has entered the prime of his career nor fully tapped his ability. Even with scoring 60-plus points for the majority of his short 5-year career, Ryan’s best hockey still lies in front of him.
With next season currently being the last Johansen is under contract, the Predator front office is surely at work making sure that the number one center they acquired this past season feels at home centering the top line in Nashville for years to come.