Center Ryan Johansen, all 20 years old of him, was sent back to the Columbus Blue Jackets’ American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield, Massachusetts today. After accumulating 21 points (9 goals, 12 assists, -2 rating) in 67 games in Columbus last season, Johansen logged 34 games with the Springfield Falcons (14 goals, 13 assists, 27 points, +11 rating).
But it wasn’t that which bought the former number four overall draft pick a plane ticket back to the Berkshires. No, it was the past 10 games in Columbus, where Johansen only had 2 assists (no goals) and a -5 rating. General manager Scott Howson said the issue was that of diminishing returns – in large part because of diminishing confidence – over the past few games. He’s been great in the faceoff circle, but everything else has been hit-and-miss.
I can’t say that this demotion comes as a surprise to me, and that’s on a couple of levels.
First, I’ve been skeptical of Johansen’s season-long viability in Columbus since the second day of training camp, when I said, “Hunch: Ryan Johansen either finds a new gear or goes back to Springfield.” I think it’s fair to say that he turned it on to nail down a spot, kept it going for a few games and began to lose his momentum. And when you consider that he is perhaps the only bonafide blue chip prospect on the offensive side of the puck (complemented by the injured Ryan Murray on the blue line), the Blue Jackets simply cannot afford for Johansen’s development to go awry. It was hard enough when the crazy NHL agreement with the Canadian major junior system precluded the CBJ from sending Johansen to the AHL last season (where he really belonged), so the opportunity to move him back where he can hone his skills and participate in the winning culture with the Falcons makes this a bit of a no-brainer.
The other reason that I’m not too surprised is that Johansen is moving back to Springfield lies in the last sentence of the prior paragraph: He’s a young guy, and the team in Springfield is winning a lot right now (tied for first in the AHL’s Eastern Conference as I type). The team in Columbus is struggling. If you’re thinking past this season and into the seasons ahead, would you rather have your top offensive prospect filled with the positive, aggressive attitude that comes from winning games and perhaps competing in the AHL playoffs…or would you rather have him getting less than optimal minutes in a frustrated locker room? It’s one thing to keep Steve Mason in town when you realize that he is the only way that the team was going to make the 2009 playoffs, but seven standings points in 10 games makes a playoff run a tough concept to wrap one’s head around right now.
So that’s it for Ryan Johansen, at least for now. Everything I’m hearing is that the team won’t be calling anyone up, trading or signing a street free agent…the replacement for his minutes will come from within.
The 2013 Columbus Blue Jackets season marches on.