Could Ryan Johansen Be Draft Day Trade Bait for Nashville Predators?

Ryan Johansen #92 of the Nashville Predators struggles to his feet as he skates to the bench after an injury during the first period of the game against the Vancouver Canucks at Bridgestone Arena on February 21, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Ryan Johansen #92 of the Nashville Predators struggles to his feet as he skates to the bench after an injury during the first period of the game against the Vancouver Canucks at Bridgestone Arena on February 21, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images) /

Perhaps no player enters the 2023 offseason on the Nashville Predators with more uncertainty on where they fit into the lineup than Ryan Johansen. A team that’s shifting towards a younger blend of forwards can only make you wonder what the plans are for Johansen.

The 2023 NHL Draft Lottery ended with plenty of controversy as the Chicago Blackhawks won the top overall pick, while the Nashville Predators will slot in at the No.15 pick.

Connor Bedard with a 99.9999 percent chance will be selected by the Blackhawks, while the Predators draft plans are way more up for speculation, as well as if they have any more trades up their sleeve.

So this brings me to Johansen and if the Nashville Predators can explore wheeling and dealing on draft day to unload the 30-year-old, $8M veteran who is widely-considered below the tier of being a top-six center. At least on any serious playoff contending roster.

Where does Johansen fit on the Nashville Predators Moving Forward?

Johansen has been trending down towards being a 0.5 point-per-game player since the 2019-20 season. Before that, Johansen was much closer to that point-per-game type of player that you want to see from an elite top line center.

Now, before I go any further, Johansen certainly brings a lot of value outside of just point scoring. He’s a great leader on the ice, checks hard, is a gifted puck handler and performs exceptionally well in the faceoff circle nearly winning 60 percent of his faceoffs this past season.

“The league is getting quicker. Joey is a skillful player. He has size, he’s good on face-offs, he’s got lots of good things to offer. But the game is getting quicker and [speed is not] one of his strengths.”- Barry Trotz on Ryan Johansen’s Offseason, Per John Glennon of the Nashville Post

With that said, Johansen is trending down and I’m not sure where the Predators can find room for him on the 2023-24 starting lineup unless they take away a center role from the likes of a Juuso Parssinen, Cody Glass, Tommy Novak or Colton Sissons. Those are my starting centers for opening night of 2023-24.

You also can’t forget Philip Tomasino who is also originally drafted to be a center, but has played primarily wing early in his NHL career and may start off there again next season.

Could Novak shift to a wing to make room for Johansen at center? Sure, but then what line are you putting Johansen on then? Are you comfortable with taking away top-six minutes from Parssinen or Glass who are hopefully your long-term future?

New General Manager Barry Trotz told John Glennon of the Nashville Post that Johansen needs to have his “best summer” to reclaim his top-six role in the lineup

Johansen’s 2022-23 campaign ended prematurely on February 21 in a game against the Vancouver Canucks when he suffered an odd injury from a skate blade.

One Team Makes Total Sense for Both Johansen and the Predators

Johansen’s contract isn’t as difficult to move as it once was. The original long-term deal of eight years signed back in the summer of 2017 now only has two more years left. A much easier contract, although the AAV is still way too high, for a team to take on if the need is there.

There’s also the option to retain some salary to push a deal through, which is a foregone conclusion if the Predators want to find a trade partner. No team in their right mind would take on Johansen’s full $8M AAV salary, even if it is only for two more years.

This brings me to the original thought of can the Predators explore trading Johansen during the 2023 NHL Entry Draft? I think they can certainly pursue it and get some inquiring front offices, and they should do so even if it’s later in the draft and includes future draft picks into 2024 and beyond.

I’m also very open to the idea of the Predators trying to move into the top-10 in the upcoming draft, but that’s going to take a much more complex package that maybe can include Johansen and some retained salary, but also a package of draft picks and maybe even a prospect.

A risky and bold proposition to ask Trotz to take on, but would it ever send a message and carry on from the trade deadline theme of cleaning the slate and becoming a much younger team.

Let’s look at teams in the current top-10 that might at least pick up the phone and listen to a trade package that included Johansen.

First off, you need a team that’s in dire need of a veteran center for their top-six, and a team that’s still kind of rebuilding but getting closer to competing for the playoffs in the next season or two.

A team like the Philadelphia Flyers stick out, who are currently sitting at the No.7 overall pick and are thin at center. Problem with them is they have a very limited amount of projected cap space to take on Johansen’s contract.

The Predators would have to retain at least half, or $4M, for the Flyers. Would that be ultimately worth it? The Flyers look like a fit for Johansen, but it would be hard to make the numbers work.

What about the Arizona Coyotes? They have a lot more cap space to take on Johansen, and although they’re still very much in a rebuild, they made some decent strides last season and might be looking to add a veteran or two to move the needle forward in 2023-24.

The Coyotes pick twice before the Predators pick at 15th, holding the No.6 and No.12 overall picks. And the Coyotes are pretty thin at center and could easily find a spot for Johansen.

Just for the sake of getting something in return and freeing up both a roster spot to continue the youth movement while also cutting at least a little salary would be a beautiful scenario for Nashville, and Arizona would be adding some veteran experience at center as they keeping trying to climb out of their rebuild and back into viable contenders for the playoffs.

The Detroit Red Wings have the fourth-most available cap space according to SpotTrac and are picking No.9 overall. A nice spot for the Predators to try to move up to, but the Red Wings are also loaded with quality center depth with Dylan Larkin, Andrew Copp and Robby Fabbri. All firmly in their primes, so the Red Wings unfortunately don’t strike me as a team that would be interested in Johansen.

Out of all the top-10 picking teams, Arizona is the team that makes the most sense to work out a deal with. Many of the other teams either simply don’t have the roster space, the cap room or just aren’t in a position to be adding an aging center while giving up a high draft pick.

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Even if the Nashville Predators can’t make a deal in the first round that includes Johansen, then I’m trying to trade him throughout the draft or the remainder of the offseason. Make a deal to obtain a second round pick in a future draft or move up slightly for a player you really want in a later round.

Full disclosure; I fully respect Johansen and what he brought to the organization (362 points, 115 power play points, 23 game-winning goals) for eight seasons as originally part of the Seth Jones trade. There have been a lot of highs, but it’s trending in the wrong direction and the end seems to be near for these two being together.

Maybe the Nashville Predators aren’t ready to give up and trade away this long-time veteran. Or maybe they just won’t be able to find any suitors that make sense. Either way, Johansen’s future is very hard to predict right now.

Finding the right trade partner for Johansen could be hugely beneficial for both parties. If the right team can land Johansen, he still has a few more years of high level hockey on the right team. It looks like the perfect time to party ways for both Johansen and the Nashville Predators.