Just like I did with Jonathan Drouin last week, I dug into a lot of last years film of Johansen. And because Johansen plays more than Drouin, it was a bit more film. I watched 8 games, spread throughout the year, to get an idea of how he looked. Due to the size, this one is probably best viewed through a desktop, as opposed to mobile.
After watching that much of his game film, all I can say is…I have some doubts. Just like with Drouin, there’s good and bad to go over, but I’m really fascinated to see how this works out.
Let me show (and tell) you why.
When the Avalanche acquired Nazem Kadri, he was a good face-off guy, but he really only had one year of doing that. His first year in Colorado, he was tremendous, but his numbers dipped after that.
Johansen has been consistently good in the face-off circle every year since 2012, never dipping below 51.42% in a season. Last year, he was dominant, winning 59.2% of his face-offs. In the games I watched, winning face-offs was actually his best tool to create offense. I’m not sure that’s a compliment, but it’s valuable, especially to coaches.
Just think back to last season. J.T. Compher took a ton of draws in every situation for Colorado. The problem? He’s not exactly a good face-off guy, as he didn’t even hit the 50% mark. I can already see Bednar throwing Johansen out with MacKinnon and Rantanen in situations just to win the face-off in the offensive zone. Colorado will find ways to use this to their advantage, especially if Johansen can repeat his face-off dominance from last year.
Look at those clean face-off wins right onto the stick of Matt Duchene. Imagine that, but to Mikko Rantanen instead. That might come in handy.
Can Be Very Physical…Sometimes
Part of what makes Johansen so frustrating to watch is that he’s a huge body, but he doesn’t always play that way. And it’s especially frustrating because when he does use his body and play physical, he can be very effective.
Just look at the clips above. He’s separating guys from the puck on the forecheck, which in turn creates a chance for his team. And in the defensive zone, he shows a little bit of nasty, which you like to see.
If he played like this all the time, we’d be talking about him in a different light, and quite frankly, he probably wouldn’t be on the Avalanche right now. But he doesn’t always play like this, which we’ll get to, and that’s what’s so frustrating.
I would be genuinely surprised if Johansen is not on the top powerplay unit, at least to start.
For one, his ability to win a face-off increases the likelihood of starting with possession and getting set-up. Two, he’s generally pretty effective with the extra man. And three, as you can see above, he played a lot of the bumper position in Nashville.
Who played in the bumper spot most of last year? J.T. Compher, and he’s not here anymore. It’s an easy move to slot Johansen in there, because not only is he a good powerplay option, but he’s got plenty of experience in that position.
Why His In-Zone Play May Fit
In watching Johansen, one of his favorite moves to maintain possession was to ring it around to the defenseman on the opposite side of the ice. It’s a smart, subtle play. On a team with Roman Josi, it works well, but imagine it on a team with the likes of Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Bowen Byram, and Sam Girard.
The other thing you’ll notice on a lot of these plays is that after getting it to the defensemen, he heads to the net. Unlike Drouin, who likes to stick to the perimeter of the ice, Johansen will get in front of the goalie. A fair bit of his goals came in and around the net, and he’s got good hand-eye coordination with deflections.
This isn’t flashy, but the Avalanche do love their point shots. Another big body in the top six who will head to the net will help those defenders out as well.
To be honest, it wasn’t very easy to find clips where Johansen was creating offense. He wasn’t exactly driving the play, and did seem to work best with a guy like Duchene, who could do a lot of work with the puck.
He’s not a flashy player by any means. It’s not like Drouin, who loves to hit that 40 foot seam pass through the middle of the ice. With Johansen, it’s a lot more short, smart passes. From what I saw, he looks like more of a support player than anything, but the Avalanche might be able to surround him with players that can get the best out of him.
Left Wanting More
The reality is, I was left wanting a lot more after watching Johansen. You see him getting physical in the corner, and you get excited, but the reality is, you don’t always get that player.
A lot of these clips would drive coaches a little mad. You have clip one, where he makes a nice drop, but when the pass back doesn’t connect, he just kind of floats away from everything. The last clip, he’s got nothing but time to get the puck out for his team, but he stops moving his feet and tries to flip it out. He fails at that, and it leads to more zone time. Then he gets another chance to get it deep, but it’s knocked down easily, and the rest of the team can’t get off.
Just like Drouin, he gets caught not moving his feet a lot.
Maybe the most frustrating play of them all is that third clip against the Blues. They’ve got a powerplay, and the puck is coming his way, but instead of attacking it, he waits for it to come to him. He’s then outmuscled for the puck along the boards, which leads to a chance the other way. And after losing the puck, he takes a penalty, so the team loses possession, gives up a chance, and ultimately, loses their powerplay. That’ll be enough to drive a coaching staff mad.
Oh, the Penalties…
In 2 of the 8 games I watched, he appeared to be benched for extended periods of time because of the penalties he took. This is someone who spends a lot of time in the penalty box. Not exactly something you love out of your 2C.
Last year, he took more minors penalties-per-60 than any Avalanche forward. The year before, he took penalties at about the same rate, so it’s not like it was a one year thing. And these are not penalties that you love to see. I’m very interested to see how this works out with Jared Bednar, who doesn’t love stick penalties like the ones above.
The next film room will be on Miles Wood, and he was even worse with the penalties, so this will be something to watch next season.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Johansen has never been a great skater through his career, and that’s not going to change now, especially coming off a skate cut to the leg.
Just look at the first clip. He catches the puck in stride, and has the defenseman completely turned around. That ultimately doesn’t even matter, because Johansen doesn’t have the speed to accelerate past him, and he ends up turning the puck over.
But all of this is what makes the fit with Colorado so interesting. The Avalanche love to get up and go on transition. Will Johansen be able to keep up? Nazem Kadri was far from a burner and he worked out just fine, but I would also argue he’s a better skater than Johansen by a decent margin.
Why I’m Fascinated To See How He Fits
When I watched Johansen play, I didn’t see a 2C. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he can help the team. I didn’t see any glaring issues defensively, he’s good on the powerplay, he’s a smart player, and he’s an ace in the face-off circle. As a 3C, he’d be just fine, but expectations are higher than that.
Offensively, he didn’t create much of anything, and wasn’t very involved. Once he’s in the zone, he’s fine, but nothing really stands out. I don’t know if you can use the linemate excuse, either. Matt Duchene was on his wing most of the time, and the other wingers switched between Nino Niederreiter, Filip Forsberg, and Mikael Granlund. There’s no Rantanen in there, but those aren’t bad players (other than maybe Granlund).
I was left wondering how Johansen, whose production three of the last four years has been pretty lackluster, was not only going to be a 2C, but one that can help the Avalanche win another Stanley Cup.
But that’s why I’m so fascinated to see how this whole thing plays out.
I trust the pro scouting staff of the Avalanche. Over the last handful of years, they’ve targeted players in the off-season that ended up fitting in really well on the team. More often than not, they get it right. Beyond the scouting staff, the Avalanche have arguably the best analytics group in the league, and a great coaching staff. Obviously, all of them watched Johansen and see how this can work.
There’s just so many things about him that don’t seem to fit with the Avalanche, and yet, they saw him as their best option at 2C. Like I mentioned, I see hints of where he could fit the system well in the offensive zone, with his use of the defensemen and willingness to get to the net, but it will just be so interesting to watch.
It really will be a great test of the “Avalanche Way.” This is a well-run organization with strong management, great coaching, and elite players. Everything is set up for Johansen to succeed. On top of all that, he should be a motivated player after how things ended in Nashville. After all, the organization gave him away for nothing, and decided they’d rather pay half his contract than have him on the team. He should have a chip on his shoulder heading into training camp.
The other thing that has to be taken into account is Colorado’s defense. They make life easier for the forwards, and get them the puck in the right spot most of the time. That’s a good thing for Johansen, who typically needs someone to get him the puck. I wasn’t very impressed with him in transition with Nashville, but to be honest, they seem to be a very good transition team in general. That won’t be the case in Colorado.
I can only really go off what I saw on tape, and I didn’t see a 2C caliber player. The Avalanche obviously see something in him that they can work with.
And that’s why I can’t wait to see how this plays out.