FALCONS: Johansen taking advantage of top-line role

The 20-year-old center is playing big minutes for first-place Springfield in his first AHL season

Tuesday, 10.30.2012 / 10:00 AM
Rob Mixer  - BlueJackets.com

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

almost immediately.

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

every night.

“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

Draft.

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

bigger.

“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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