When the Columbus Blue Jackets made Ryan Johansen of the Portland Winterhawks the fourth overall selection in last year’s NHL Entry Draft, a lot of people were skeptical about the selection. After playing only one season of hockey in the Western Hockey League, some were left wondering if the lanky center’s productive year was more of a bi-product of playing alongside highly touted prospects Nino Niederreiter (NYI) and Brad Ross (TOR). With his second season in the WHL, Ryan Johansen has proven just the opposite, leading the Hawks to their first trip to the league’s championship series since the 2000-01 season.
After an impressive camp with the Blue Jackets, Johansen was sent back to Portland with the expectation that he would be a dominant player in the WHL all season long; and he certainly lived up to his billing. Johansen started out strong, and only seemed to get better as the season wore on, helping pace the Winterhawks the entire way while earning himself a roster spot with Canada’s World Junior Championship team. Johansen excelled with the Canadian team, finishing 6th in tournament scoring, posting 3 goals, 9 points, and a +4 rating; numbers that earned him a spot on the tournament All-Star team.
Once he returned to the WHL, Johansen only continued to improve, highlighted by his 41 points and +18 rating through February and March, leading into the WHL playoffs where he was integral in helping Portland earn its first US Division title since the 2001-02 season. Ryan would score 40 goals and 92 points overall on the season, along with an impressive +44 rating (t-6th, WHL), in 63 games. Johansen’s impressive season would indeed roll over into the playoffs, where he currently leads all scorers with 28 points (13g, 15a), as the Hawks are battling the Kootenay Ice in the WHL Championship series.
Johansen has been able to effectively use his size and playmaking ability to create offense, and has also emerged as one of the top penalty killers in the Western Hockey League. He has an impressive reach, and combines it with deceptive speed to make plays in both the offensive and defensive ends. Johansen has stepped up as a quiet leader for the Winterhawks, and has shown a keen ability to take his game to another level in the playoffs, as evidenced by his 19 goals and 46 points in 33 career playoff games. When matched up against highly touted prospect Jared Cowen (OTT) of the Spokane Chiefs, Johansen proved that he can take a physical pounding and still play his game, scoring 5 goals and 3 assists in the 6 game Western Conference final.
Since scoring 17 points in 47 games in the BCHL as a 16 year old, Johansen has posted 65 goals and 161 points in 134 WHL games, and has rapidly ascended to become the top prospect for the Blue Jackets. A coy pick at the draft table by general manager Scott Howson has landed the team one of the most intriguing young centers in the game, and it certainly looks like Ryan Johansen will play in the NHL much sooner than most scouts thought prior to the draft. It would certainly help his cause if he added some mass over the summer to better prepare for the rigors of the NHL’s 82 game schedule; but there aren’t many holes in the young pivot’s game. As the Columbus franchise looks to create an identity for itself, look for Johansen to have every opportunity to make the team out of camp, as he will certainly battle competitively for an opening day roster spot in 2011/12.
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