At roughly 5:30pm Central on Wednesday night, the Nashville Predators finally acquired that elusive top-line center they’ve always coveted.
His name? Ryan Johansen.
“We have been looking for a number one center forever,” Nashville GM David Poile said. “Today, we accomplished something we haven’t been able to do in 18 years. We got a first line center.”
Johansen was the fourth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and had a career year last season, posting 71 points while appearing in all 82 of his team’s regular season games. Prior to that, he registered an impressive 63-point season (including 33 goals) as a 21 year old. As an added bonus, he was the MVP of the All-Star Game in Columbus last January.
Things aren’t all rosey, however, as it takes something to get something. It’s a necessary evil. In acquiring Johansen, they parted ways with one of their key cogs on defense Seth Jones.
“We did what we had to for our franchise today,” Poile said.
Jones, 21, was the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft and made an immediate jump to the NHL. In his rookie year, he notched an impressive 25 points in 77 games — including this gem. Last year, he improved in a slightly increased roll, posting 27 points and chipped in four assists in their heartbreaking first round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. This season, he’s been paired with veteran defensive stalwart Barret Jackman and seen increased power play time. He should continue to develop into the franchise defenseman most experts agreed he would become entering his draft year.
“It’s one of those things where you could see a fit and a need for both teams,” Columbus General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “I’ve been trying to add D for two years.”
And Poile has been doing the same, except for a top line center. Nashville now boasts a forward corps that features Johansen, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Fisher and Paul Gaustad down the middle with both Austin Watson and Colton Sissons able to chip in if there’s an injury. Furthermore, the idea of Filip Forsberg and James Neal with Johansen has some salivating at the potential of a true top line in Music City.
Johansen immediately becomes Nashville’s most prouctive forward, tying Forsberg with 26 points on the season.
Aside from the fact they’ve needed a true top line center nearly the entire history of the franchise, they need some help on offense this season. In their 40 games so far, they’ve been held to two or fewer goals 21 times. That is not going to get it done once the postseason starts on April 13. Nashville is 16th in the League in scoring (104) and should see a boost with Johansen in the fold.
“Our offense has been inconsistent,” Poile said. “This trade balances out our team. I believe this will take our offense to the next level.”
Of course, now the Preds do need to adjust their forward situation. Adding Johansen onto the top line is a no-brainer but, without shipping a forward to Columbus with Jones, that means Nashville is overloaded up front. Do they demote Miikka Salomaki? Viktor Arvidsson? Somebody who’s played well recently has to be pushed out. Another necessary evil in the process of trying to compete for a Stanley Cup.
Speaking of personnel changes, one of Anthony Bitetto and Petter Granberg will finally get an opportunity to play. Bitetto has been the extra blueliner all season (sans one game in which Ryan Ellis was hurt) and Granberg was claimed on waivers November 22 and the Preds promptly sent Victor Bartley to the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL. Granberg has yet to play a game with the Predators and now, with Jones being jettisoned, there’s finally room.
Johansen became available when he ended up in new Jackets head coach John Tortorella’s dog house. Shortly after he took over on October 21, the always-vocal coach accused his star player of not being in shape and then, in mid-December, benched him.
This deal made so much sense it’s almost silly it didn’t happen sooner. Both teams addressed their biggest need, both teams dealt from their position of strength and both teams acquired a young talent to help them long term. It could have been much bigger but ended up being what hockey trades used to be a long time ago. A straight up deal between two clubs that are trying to get better both now and in the future.
Nashville wasn’t the only team in the hunt, however. There were reports that Central Division rivals the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues were also interested in acquiring Johansen. Considering those reports, it makes it even more important for the Predators to win the sweepstakes as they help themselves and keep them away from rivals they’re directly competing with for a playoff spot.
Jones’ first game in a Blue Jackets sweater will be Friday in Carolina while Johansen’s will be at Preds practice tomorrow prior to the team’s game Friday in Denver.
“I want to get that jersey on as soon as possible and start the new chapter and go have some fun,” Johansen said.
And Predator nation wants the same, Mr. Johansen. Welcome to Smashville.