On Tuesday afternoon, Nashville Predators General Manager David Poile went on SiriusXM’s NHL Network Radio and sounded off about center Ryan Johansen.
“He’s going to be in Nashville at the end of this week in preparation for the season and I expect him to have the best year of his career,” Poile told hosts Nick Alberga and Tyler Madarasz.
In short, Poile is right. The table is set for Johansen to post great numbers in 2016-17. As a matter of fact, I said as much when I joined Chase McCabe in-studio on June 27 to talk about Filip Forsberg’s six-year extension. When the topic switched to the foundation pieces of Nashville’s long term success, Johansen came up.
With that in mind, here are four reasons Predators fans should be extremely excited about Johansen this coming year.
1. HE’S NOT IN COLUMBUS ANYMORE
If you’ve been around sports for any length of time, you know that some situations are just set up for success. You also know there are also some situations that are just toxic. That would be the case in Columbus where the fans are passionate and ready to cheer for a winner but the organization continues stumble all over themselves. In their 15-season history, they’ve made the playoffs all of two times. Furthermore, they’ve won a grand total of two playoff games in those 15 years. In the four and half seasons Johansen spent in a Jackets sweater, Columbus went 187-188-46 and went through three head coaches. Despite the poor record of his club, the former Portland Winterhawk registered 193 points, leading them in scoring once (63 points in 2013-14) and being their second leading scorer another time (71 in 2014-15). When he was traded straight up for defenseman Seth Jones back in January, he managed to escape the toxicity of Ohio’s capital. With his first full NHL season not in Columbus on the horizon, he can truly embrace a fresh start.
2. THE TALENT AROUND HIM
Filip Forsberg is just 22 years old. Calle Jarnkrok is 23. Ryan Ellis is 25. Mattias Ekholm and Roman Josi are 26. PK Subban is 27. All are signed through at least 2019. Even James Neal, who has two years left on his contract, is in the prime of his career at 28. Johansen finally has talent around him. And he has that talent for the foreseeable future. In Columbus, he only shared a single season with Rick Nash (and he was a 19-year old rookie learning the pro game at that time) and didn’t have much of a defense when he finally had guys like Nick Foligno and Scott Hartnell putting up numbers left and right in 2014-15. In Music City, however, he’s finally on a complete team. Imagine what he could do surrounded by that kind of talent on the power play alone. He’s never been on a legit Stanley Cup contender and that, in and of itself, must have him itching to get the season started.
3. HE’S BETTER CONDITIONED
Early last season, one of the rumors was that Columbus Head Coach John Tortorella wasn’t happy with Johansen’s conditioning. He was benched late in games on more than one occasion and even saw his name appear as a healthy scratch. Fast forward several months and Poile, himself, mentioned Johansen’s conditioning in his end-of-season press conference.
“Ryan Johansen was a great addition to our hockey club but I think there’s more from Ryan I could get and he knows that,” Poile said on May 18. “This is a big off-season for Ryan, conditioning-wise, to reach his potential as a hockey player.”
So here we are. The off-season is almost over and training camp is a month away.
“He is a number one center and I would say, with all due respect, he had an off-year last year,” Poile told NHL Network Radio. “This year his conditioning is terrific.”
We’ll have to wait until late September to see the results on the ice but, from Poile’s comments, it seems like Johansen has answered the bell. If he’s a 60-point player now, what kind of player would a well-conditioned Johansen be?
4. IT’S A CONTRACT YEAR
No purist likes to admit it but contract years are powerful motivators. There are plenty of examples around the League (and plenty more around sports) but we’ll stick with the Preds here. In 2008, with his contract just months from expiring, Mike Ribeiro was nearly a point-per-game player for the Dallas Stars during their playoff run. His 17 points in 18 games led the team in scoring. He went on to sign a five-year deal that summer for $5 million per year. And what about Joel Ward? The North York, Ontario native was never an abundant scorer but, in April and early May of 2011, he led the Predators in playoff scoring (13) and goals (7) en route to inking a four-year, $12 million deal with the Washington Capitals. Most recently, Colin Wilson parlayed career highs in goals (20), points (42) and plus/minus (plus-19) as well as a team high five goals in the 2014-15 playoffs into a brand new four-year, $15.75 million deal.
Pre-season projections can be tough and most — all? — are never accurate. That said, Poile may be onto something here. The fact that he’s out of Columbus, on a Stanley Cup contender, in the best condition of his career and in a contract year, Johansen truly is primed to realize his potential.
Nashville fans can’t wait to see what that potential is.
PHOTO CREDIT: Brooks Bratten