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Where in the World Is Ryan Johansen?

The sixty-four-million-dollar man hasn’t performed as well as we all hoped to start the season. Is it time to worry?

NHL: Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Where were you when...?

I remember finding out about Ryan Johansen’s injury. It wasn’t exactly one of those “where were you when...” moments, but it carried a particular sting with it. Was it Kesler’s fault? (answer: no, even though I really wanted to blame it on him) Did it turn Joey into our biggest cheerleader? (answer: yes) Is it possible that it helped drive the defeat of the Anaheim Ducks? (answer: probably) Was it a crushing and devastating loss for us as we headed into the Stanley Cup Final? (answer: yes) And, as we fell two wins shy of hoisting the aforementioned Cup of Lord Stanley, I couldn’t help but wonder if things would have turned out differently with a healthy Joey and a complete JOFA line.

Of course, summer began to heat up and so did my anticipation for his contract. I couldn’t wait for Poile to get it done and cement this giant puzzle piece into place. Then, one magical day, my wife and I were working on getting my classroom set up when we got word from Twitter that a press conference was coming up with Poile and Johansen. We scrambled for a live feed and our wishes came true! RyJo signed a fat contract and was going to center the first line in Nashville for years to come.

We finished our day with talk of how dominant he would be when October finally rolled around. Our early predictions for point totals were, I admit, a bit high, but you couldn’t blame us! We were just two wins away from the Stanley Cup WITHOUT Johansen. Imagine what we would do WITH him back and healthy!

Then, the school year began and the anticipation built as I learned which of my students were fellow Predators fans (and found a random Flyers fan in there, bless his heart) and we spent the passing periods getting hyped for the season. Then, finally, the puck dropped. I waited for that Johansen magic to happen...

And I’m still waiting...for his first goal of the season. Yes, he has 8 assists, and I’m not the numbers guy here, but that seems a bit, well, short of what I’d expect for, *cough*, 8 million dollars a year.

Kate, I’m worried!

We’ve only just begun

The good news is that Ryan Johansen has been one of the Preds’ better players offensively this season.

The bad news is that that’s been a very low bar to clear.

Back to the good news, there are a couple of distinct areas Johansen can work on, and as he improves the team will probably also improve. Let’s start with those.

On-ice shot rate heat maps. In the map on the left, green means lots of offense and purple means very little. In the map on the right, red means lots of offense and blue means very little. In both, white is average.

The Predators have really, really struggled to get anything going in the slot this year. Having Johansen out there has been about as good as it gets for them (left chart), which is still really bad for a NHL team (right chart). This is prime scoring territory they’re leaving totally untouched, which isn’t the way to score goals.

Looking at the Expected Goals (xG) stat on, the Preds have just recently improved to 29th in the league at 5v5 xGF/60. Only the Sabres and Avalanche are expected to score 5v5 goals less often. While it’s true that xG can’t completely account for things like screens or shots off of cross-crease passes, it’s still a very good tool, and, besides, the Predators have a shot quality issue to the eye as well as the model. Seeing where their shots are coming from just underscores the feeling that they’re not getting enough good looks. If Johansen can open up that area of the ice even a little more, he and his linemates should start being able to produce more.

For now, though, he’s still doing a lot of things right.

He leads all Predators forwards with at least 50 minutes of 5v5 icetime in relative shot share (Rel CF%), and is second among forwards in relative xG share. (Pontus Åberg, who’s played just over half as many games as Johansen, leads the team in Rel xGF%.) In other words, while he’s on the ice—even 5v5 where the team is struggling—they’re doing better than they are without him.

Looking at what’s happening with Johansen to make those excellent relative percentages, he leads all forwards in 5v5 shots taken per hour he’s on the ice, and leads the team in 5v5 expected goals for per hour he’s on the ice. His defense isn’t bad, but it’s his offense that’s shining.

Usually, that kind of thing pays off if you’re patient. If a player is helping his team get both more shots and better shots, eventually some of those shots are going to start turning into goals. The points should be coming for Johansen’s line.

As for Johansen himself, though...he’s taking barely over seven shots per hour 5v5, and more than half of those aren’t getting to the net. The only players shooting the puck less than Johansen in normal play are Cody McLeod, Alexei Emelin, and Tony Bitetto—that’s bad company. Those three and Yannick Weber are the only ones having a harder time getting the puck to the net than Johansen. We’re going to be waiting a long time for a Ryan Johansen goal if he doesn’t start trying to score a few more.

Adding special teams into the mix doesn’t really improve things, either. Johansen is still only doing better than three bottom-pairing defensemen and McLeod at taking shots, and better than those four and Mattias Ekholm at getting the shots he does take on goal. His shot quality is okay, but he’s taking so few that it really doesn’t matter.

Johansen is much more of a passer than a shooter, but him flattening his game into a fiscally-responsible Joe Thornton’s isn’t what the Predators need right now.

It’s possible that his leg hasn’t completely recovered from his season-ending surgery just yet, or that recuperating meant that he wasn’t able to get as far back into shape as he would have preferred over the summer. It could also be that the lack of more than one line that was a threat to score made it too easy for other teams to shut Johansen and his line down—if that’s the case, then hopefully we’ll see some changes soon with Kyle Turris added to the lineup. Some of it could also just be bad luck, or he might have caught whatever was wrong with Craig Smith last year.

For an individual player, a lot of weird stuff can happen in what’s only been a little over a month. There are things Johansen could be doing better, but it isn’t time to panic yet.