Ryan Johansen endured the most grueling summer training of his life in order to prepare
himself for a breakout season in the National Hockey League.
Though a work stoppage has him still waiting for that opportunity, he’s just fine helping
the Springfield Falcons pile up wins in the American Hockey League. The first-place
club has started 5-1-1 for the first time in its 19-year history, and Johansen is literally and
figuratively in the middle of it all.
He is one of the team’s leading scorers with six points in seven games, carrying a +5
rating and anchoring the Falcons’ top line. While players take time to adjust to life in the
AHL, an outstanding junior career and taste of the NHL last year have readied Johansen
for the next step.
“Nothing really caught me off-guard,” Johansen told BlueJackets.com when reflecting
on his first days in the AHL. “There really weren’t any surprises, to tell you the truth.
Obviously, there are different buildings than you’re used to and there are smaller crowds
in certain places.
“I was pretty confident in my game heading into camp with all of the work I put into my
training this summer, and I felt really good. I went out there and tried to do my thing, and
it turns out I’m off to a pretty good start.”
After bouncing around the Blue Jackets lineup at times last season and struggling to find
regular line mates, Springfield head coach Brad Larsen installed him as the No. 1 center
Johansen has responded to the challenge issued by the coaching staff. From day one, the
mandate to each player has been that every opportunity will be earned – and it’s a key
component of the winning culture Larsen wants to create.
“Ryan has a very good skill set and he thinks the game well,” Blue Jackets assistant
general manager Chris MacFarland told BlueJackets.com. “He’s playing a lot of minutes
and with good players, he’s playing on the power play and killing penalties. It’s a lot of
hockey and it’s a good league this year.
“So far, so good for him. He’s off to a good start.”
Johansen’s opening night line mates were Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (acquired in the
offseason) and Cam Atkinson, and that trio stayed together for the first two-plus weeks
of the season. Larsen made a slight adjustment last week, moving Atkinson to Matt
Calvert’s line and slotting Tomas Kubalik on the right wing of the Johansen line.
The results have been encouraging. Johansen had a three-point weekend and scored the
game-winning goal against the Portland Pirates on Sunday, and his line mates are helping
him create a wealth of scoring chances.
“We’re in a spot where any shift can change the game,” Johansen said of his line. “I feel
so confident playing on that line, and I have a real good jump to my game. At this point,
for me, it’s about moving forward and keep doing what I’m doing and staying consistent
“Hopefully I can do that and we can keep racking up the wins here.”
Despite the strong start for both Johansen and the Falcons, MacFarland strongly believes
this is just a glimpse of the dynamic player they selected fourth overall in the 2010 NHL
The Blue Jackets coaching staff laid out their offseason expectations for all players, and
one of Johansen’s objectives was to get stronger to add to his 6-foot-3 frame. After a
summer working in Vancouver with Blue Jackets strength and conditioning intern Jeff
Conkle, he added over 10 pounds of muscle and arrived at development camp noticeably
“He’s a big kid that’s still growing into his frame, and he’s going to be a real strong
player,” MacFarland said. “As he does get stronger and adds that to the assets he already
has, it’s going to make him an even better player down the road.
“I think he’s fit in very well down there, too. He’s getting a lot of ice time and he knows
what the coaches’ expectations are for him – not just in games but in practice. He has all
the ability in the world, and he’s definitely a key guy in that lineup.”
At just 20 years of age, Johansen is one of the go-to players on a very talented team.
Opposing teams are taking note and assigning their best defensive players to his line, but
he is still finding a way to be a difference-maker.
In addition to expectations, trust has been developed since training camp opened,
Johansen said. Larsen has given the players a lot of responsibility, and they believe that
any one of them can make a contribution when they hop over the boards.
“We’ve been put in positions where we can play well, play a lot and everyone has to earn
it,” Johansen said. “(Larsen) wants us to control the game while we’re out there on the ice
and he wants the top players to be the leaders.
“There’s a lot of trust with our coaching staff here. We feel we can make something
happen whenever (Larsen) taps our line to go out there, so we want to keep going and try
to grab as many wins as we can here.”
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