David Poile summed up the the trade of Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen perfectly:
Poile: We accomplished something we haven't been able to do in 18 years. We got a first line center. #Preds— Thomas Willis (@TomAWillis) January 7, 2016
In swapping the 21-year-old defenseman for the 23-year-old forward, the Nashville Predators addressed the center issue that had been in desperate need of an upgrade. Relying on 35-year-olds Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro did not work out like it did last year, and the offense has sputtered to stay consistent.
At the time of the trade the Predators were sitting on 102 goals for the year, 17th in the NHL. Their 2.55 GF/G ranked 18th, and most of the offensive players have been struggling mightily for most or all of the season. Dropping one player in the mix may not automatically fix everything that's wrong with the team, but a player that plays at the level that Johansen does will certainly help.
Reading the Tea Leaves
Reading the Tea Leaves
Currently, he's better than any center option on the team or in the system and he allows Ribeiro and Fisher to move down in the lineup and be more effective. On paper the previously thin depth down the middle looks much more formidable.
Losing a player like Jones hurts. He's young, talented, has tremendous upside, and Poile nearly sprinted across the floor at Prudential Center to draft him. But in order for the Predators to challenge for the Stanley Cup, sacrifices needed to be made. Jones was an unfortunate but necessary casualty to prove Poile meant it when he said "this is our year."
Nashville gets their 1C by agreeing to part ways with defensemen that will probably be a star in a few years. It's painful, but this was never going to be an easy move. So what should we expect from the new guy?
Johansen was the 4th overall pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft. Though he's had a poor season by his standards, his 26 points (6G, 20A) already ties him with Shea Weber and Filip Forsberg for second place on the team behind Roman Josi. This, coming from a player on the worst club in the NHL.
Of his 193 points, 71 of those came last year, and 63 the year before that, so expecting 65 points or so a season is not unreasonable. Especially if he continues doing what he's been doing over the last few campaigns.
Let's dive in a little further. Here are his score-adjusted 5v5 metrics via War-On-Ice compared with his career numbers:
At a glance, it looks like this season lines up with his career numbers. Keep in mind, though, that Johansen only scored 33 points in his first two seasons (107 games), before recording 160 points in his next 202. He produced at an impressive clip the previous two years, and when looking at his last five seasons he's playing up to his normal level.
This bodes well, especially now that he'll be between James Neal, Filip Forsberg or Craig Smith, presumably. All of those skaters have the ability to shoot the puck, and now defenders will have to keep an eye out for Joey, which may open up more opportunities for his line mates. It wouldn't be unreasonable to think the change of scenery will do him a world of good.
A quick glance at his HERO chart will tell a similar story:
His production is ridiculously good, but we also see that Johansen isn't the best defensive player in the game. That's not going to be his job, but the defense will have to work a little harder with the two lines being anchored by him and Mike Ribeiro.
That's going to be an area to keep an eye on. Johansen has never played for a very good possession team, but he also hasn't demonstrated a knack for driving possession himself. He usually outperforms his team, but not by much. It's also a toss up whether his teammates perform better with him or without him. Last year was awful, the year before bordered on good to very good. This year is all over the place.
Fedor Tyutin, Ryan Murray, Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Scott Hartnell and Brandon Dubinsky all perform better with Johansen on the ice. That's a good group of skaters to make better, but he's played the most with Brandon Saad, Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson, who all are well below where they should be. That's likely more a reflection on the Blue Jackets' system and deployment, but it's something to think about.
Nashville is one of the best possession teams in the league this year, so Joey should absolutely see a boost in his numbers. It's also very unlikely he'll torpedo his teammates numbers, given how adept most of them are in this aspect. We'll see how this plays out.
Finally, Johansen will no doubt see some time on the Nashville power play. We don't know how the combos will shake out yet, because Peter Laviolette has been steadfast in his personnel with the man advantage. There are plenty of options there, especially since Jones was a staple on the second unit. Mattias Ekholm will likely fill his spot, but what if Laviolette decided to ice a unit with four forwards instead? Johansen slots in on the first unit, Ryan Ellis runs point on the second unit with Mike Fisher crashing the net and Ribeiro looking for Smith and Wilson? Or something else entirely:
Filip Forsberg is on the point with Ryan Ellis on the second PP unit. Johansen is with Neal and Smith.— Robby Stanley (@RStanley247) January 7, 2016
The point is there are options. However it comes together, you can bet Johansen will add a few notches in his point column. The Preds own the 10th best power play in the league, and are adding a player that scored 23 power play points last year. He nearly made it halfway to that total (11) previously playing on the 20th best power play. Those goals will come.
Having the league's best defense doesn't count for much when your team can't score. Jones will be missed, especially because Barret Jackman will have to lug around Anthony Bitetto for the time being, with Petter Granberg waiting in the wings. Both have eight games of NHL experience, which means the third pairing will be nerve-wracking for the first time in years.
But that's a small price to pay. David Poile used a position of strength to fill a position of severe weakness. He flipped a player that might have helped the team more in a year or two for one that can help immediately. The defense is still good, and the middle depth actually looks impressive now. In return, Columbus gets a defensemen with an astronomically high ceiling. This may be a win for both sides, once the years have passed.
While Nashville didn't acquire a center up to the caliber of Anze Kopitar, Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews, they received a very productive player that should elevate the game of the skaters around him. The Predators worked over the past few years to revamp their wingers, and when Forsberg, Smith, Wilson and Neal are on their game, they're deadly. They don't need the absolute best center in the league to help them be successful, but they need one that can still play, score, and pass at an extremely high level.
Ryan Johansen can do all of those things. More important: he's young and signed through next year. Sure, there are some questions marks about "attitude problems" and "work ethic," but is there an organization better suited to handles these if they exist? Even if the Preds' end of this deal falls flat on his face, at least Poile made a huge move purely to vault his team's status to a possible Cup contender.
There may be an adjustment period for Nashville's newest resident, but there's plenty of time to get settled. For now, the Predators have 42 games left to fight their way farther up into playoff contention. For once, it looks like the best is yet to come.