Sunday, June 10, 2012

The plight of the Johan

So the first real post is going to be about the current state of the Johan (Ryan Johansen) and how it could potentially be remedied... if in fact it can at all.

Johansen was selected with the fourth overall pick in 2010, after Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. The year marked another abject failure for Columbus and the lottery pick was the only real consolation. I remember watching the draft in Rbar, shortly after moving to Columbus and wondering about Johansen. I'd heard the name and could associate it with a tall kid with tremendous upside but who had proven very little at that point.


from winterhawks.com




For a fourth overall pick, you'd hope to hell that the GM and scouts knew what they were getting in return. What we heard after the draft was that the Johan was a gestating #1 center who would scratch Nash right where he itched. He was a playmaker, a puck-possession hound who could box out any checkers and make great dishes to teammates in excellent scoring positions. He was a future Joe Thornton at most, a future Jason Allison at the very least. The questions revolving around him were a relative lack of experience- having yet to play on the vaunted Canadian World Juniors squad and having just one CHL playoff under his belt- albeit one where he impressed many people.

The fourth overall pick is one coveted selection. The last five drafts have seen the following guys go at number 4:

2011: Adam Larsson
2010: refer to blog post title.
2009: Evander Kane
2008: Alex Pietrangelo
2007: Thomas Hickey (OK, mulligan)

So we watched the gangly, awkward 18-year-old Johan accept the sweater and hat of the CBJ and we heard him talk about how Scott Howson had done some personal scouting on him (this is generally a no-no for GMs to do as it can bias them and undermine the work they pay scouts to do). We heard him try to sound positive about his future in Cbus, where he thought he fit in, etc... and I think the CBJ fans were very divided on the pick. Some were groaning about another wasted pick, some were jubilant about finally getting a #1 center and many of us were just curious to see what the future could hold for this kid and this gut-wrenching franchise.

For the record, here are the following five players that Howson passed on in order to get Johansen:

Nino Niederreiter
Brett Connolly
Jeff Skinner
Alex Burmistrov
Mikael Granlund

Given all the negative sentiment about the Jackets' performances at the draft table, I see no reason to bemoan this one. They were doing what a pro team should be doing... scouting the hell out of a guy and swinging for the fences. Johan was one of the younger guys his draft year (insert reference to Malcolm Gladwell literature here) and hadn't really shown the world what he could do yet. But Howson and some of his scouts believed he was worth the gamble.

To follow up his post-draft jubilee, things took the expected course, with Johansen giving a good showing at camp but being sent to the minors, followed by a fairly dominant year for the Portland Winterhawks... scoring 40 goals and 92 points in 63 games. These are the types of numbers you'd hope an 18-19 year old future #1 Center would be putting up. All while making the Winterhawks into one of the best teams in the CHL and being listed as a major leader on the team.

After all this, we knew he would come into camp the next year a still-skinny kid with a more solid foundation. The best thing for him by far would have been to send him to the AHL and let him slowly work his way up the ladder with plenty of playing time, against grown men, out of the spotlight of the NHL. However, his age got in the way and he ended up only being eligible for one of two places: the CHL or the NHL. And this is where the ball of string started to unravel.

Around this time, there was a nice post about Johansen's development by the Dark Blue Jacket:
http://darkbluejacket.blogspot.com/2011/09/johansen-quandary-part-ii.html

The Johan made the NHL squad. But essentially as a fourth liner or a press-box squatter. He could have been in the CHL getting bored beating up kids and leading the winter hawks to a memorial cup (potentially). After the season was lost, they could have just given him top-center minutes to learn his game in the NHL (although it could have led to him being Mason'ed). But instead, we kept either seeing him getting 5-10 minutes a night or getting scratched altogether, although he did occasionally get spot-duty on top lines, this was not a regular practice. There were rumors of him having run afoul of team leadership somehow. The Dispatch reported how he was scratched for a stretch, after which coach Todd Richards needed to discuss some things with him before putting him back in the roster. The word used several times was "consistency". One of the biggest mistakes, in my opinion, was not allowing him to play on the world juniors' canadian squad. It was essentially the only opportunity to allow him to take a leadership role last year and to become more confident. Somehow, GMSH decided this was not a time to risk injury or some other poor fate by letting him go to play with his peers.

And in the end of the 2011-12 season, here are the net stats that he put up (source- http://bluejackets.nhl.com/club/player.htm?id=8475793):


SEASONGPGAP+/-PIMPPSHGWSS%
REGULAR SEASON6791221-22430399  9.1



images.jpg



So... not pretty. However, if we are to try and view this through a more objective lens, we should give some comparisons. Finding an adequate comparison for him is tough, but here are a few that I believe can be considered comparison first season stats for offensive center prospects in their first go-rounds at the NHL level. All stats are from NHL.com and the columns are in the same order as above.

Joe Thornton

1997-1998BRUINS55347-619001339.1


Logan Couture

2009-2010SHARKS25549461014211.9

Jeff Skinner

2010-2011HURRICANES8231326334660221514.4

Matt Duchene

2009-2010AVALANCHE81243155116101218013.3

Evander Kane

2009-2010THRASHERS6614122626201312711.0

Jonathan Toews

2007-2008BLACKHAWKS64243054114470414416.7


Disclaimer: Hockey stats are never clean cut. I tried to find more recent (except thornton) picks who were projected as offensive or 2-way forwards drafted in the top five or thereabouts. Skinner was thrown in because the CBJ passed on him to draft Johansen. The stats can reflect many things- with Johansen comparisons, one could easily point to utilization as a primary difference maker. i.e.- if Toews were used as a plug/scratch for the majority of the 07-08 season, he may have put up 21 points too.

Despite the decade plus lapse, I think it is instructive to look at thornton's stats because this is the projected ceiling and he played quite a few games in his rookie season without necessarily being put in the #1 center role.

Couture didn't play many games in his rookie season and so far has shown himself to be more valuable in the short run. He developed quickly, and the sharks' system is famous for excellent development of drafted players.

Skinner was outstanding and the only problem I have with him is that this may be skinner's ceiling. He's a good player but on a serious contending team, he would be the #2 center at best, and he plays a completely different game than the Johan.

Kane is more of a winger and truth be told, likely has a higher offensive ceiling than Johansen. So in his first year, his stats were actually almost comparable.

Toews is similar in that he plays the same position in a "2-way" manner, much the same of what we hope from with Johansen. But he was probably given more opportunities, accounting for the disparate first year production between the two. Also, he was ready and not forced to play for the NHL as a result of his age.

So going forward, the question is this: What can be done with Ryan Johansen to ensure maximal development of his talent?

First, he could be traded. Unless the return is incredible and Howson has learned something about Johansen that would make him unable to be an effective player for the #CBJ, this seems like an abhorrent option which would outrage this blogger and probably many other Jackets' fans.

Second, he could be brought up slowly in the NHL. The current logjam at center includes Derrick Brassard and... ummm... Vinny Prospal doing spot duty?? It seems that unless there is a free agent acquisition, the Johan may end up being the second line center. Intriguing.


Third, he could be sent to the AHL. If it weren't for the giant gaping hole at center next year, I would strongly favor this option. For a player to develop properly, they need to know how it feels to become confident, capable, even dominant. I'd hope that a step down would allow the Johan to develop himself in the kiddie pool before diving into the deep end.

I'd say that Ryan Johansen's future is still pretty wide open. Despite his relatively advanced age and early mis-steps in development, there is room to grow into his frame and into Howson's early hopes. I'm skeptical about his potential to become the next Joe Thornton but let's try to be optimistic... If there is a better option at center, it would probably behoove GMSH to send him down to Springfield to hone his craft. If the current roster stands come October, I'd hope that Johansen had taken his offseason seriously enough to begin his career as a dominating puck possession center at the NHL level.

It would be reassuring to know that the Johan had taken in a more serious offseason regime with a trainer like Gary Roberts (the guy who helped transform Stamkos). The offseason training regimen of the Jackets isn't something that we get a ton of information on and to be honest, I'm not curious enough to track people down and find out if they're slacking off. The Blue Jackets have recently replaced their trainer and have previously been criticized for their inattention to this important part of the job.

As it stands, I'm not sure he has a truly structured plan to approach the next season but I hope that it's in place and going well. Either way, we will find out come Autumn when the men will be separated from the boys. Let's hope that the Johan takes the path to the greatest possible success.







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