Is there a more important new addition on the Colorado Avalanche than Ryan Johansen?
Going into the offseason, everyone knew where the most glaring hole in the Avalanche lineup was – right behind Nathan MacKinnon. When Nazem Kadri signed in Calgary last summer, the organization never really filled the hole at 2C. J.T. Compher filled in admirably during the regular season, but when the playoffs rolled around, it became apparent the 2C spot was still a big question mark for the team.
Enter: Ryan Johansen.
The 31 year old center, who was acquired from Nashville over the summer, knows he’s capable of doing that job for the Avalanche.
Why? Because he’s done it his whole life.
“Super confident,” Johansen said about being the 2C. “I mean, I’ve been a number 1 center most of my career, so I intend to play like a number 1 center still. And obviously, we’ve got a 1+ centerman ahead of me, so I’m just going to try to play my game, and do what I know I can do.”
That 1+ center Johansen is referring to is, of course, MacKinnon.
I asked the new guys last year, so I felt compelled to ask Johansen – what’s it like to have to play against Nathan MacKinnon?
“You wouldn’t want to do it, let’s put it that way,” Johansen joked.
At the same time, he loved going to battle against the Avalanche superstar, and playing behind him, he might be tasked with some difficult defensive matchups in Colorado.
“It’s a fun challenge, I’ll say that,” Johansen said of playing against an elite player like MacKinnon. “Every time I’m playing against him, played two playoff series against him, it’s a game I always looked forward to. I always look forward to those challenges, because if somehow you can neutralize him, you’re giving your team a chance to be in the game.”
Johansen has a history with the head coach of the Avalanche, Jared Bednar. During the lockout year of 2012-13, Bednar was an assistant for the Springfield Falcons. With no NHL games to be played, Johansen spent 40 games on Bednar’s AHL squad.
So far, the conversations between the two haven’t gone very deep, because the coach is letting everyone get comfortable.
“Beds and I go way back,” Johansen said. “Right now, we’re just going about our business. I think he’s giving the new guys some freedom to just hang with the guys, get to know the guys, and kind of get this process going, and I’m sure we’ll get more detailed here as we’re going along.”
This summer was not the first time Johansen had been traded. In January of 2016, Johansen was dealt to Nashville from Columbus. He famously scored his first goal with the Predators against the Avalanche, tucking a goal short side over Semyon Varlamov’s shoulder.
Getting traded is never easy, though.
“It’s crazy. Your whole life flips,” he said. “Everything kind of changes, and there’s only one way to go about it. It’s a new opportunity and it’s an amazing opportunity for myself. Just really excited to be a part of this club, and showing these guys in the room that I can be a difference maker for this group.”
Johansen arrived in Colorado early in August. Part of that was to finish rehab on his injury, and part of it was to acclimated to everything. It also had other benefits.
“Getting used to the altitude wasn’t such a bad idea,” he joked to me.
And while getting traded is always tough, it’s motivation for him.
“Every time you’re traded, they don’t want you on their club anymore,” Johansen said. “As a professional and an individual, it’s what you do with that opportunity. It either motivates you, or you can pout about it, or you just go about your business and be the best individual you can be.”
There are a lot of new faces up front for Colorado, with Johansen being one of them, and during camp on Friday, it was noticeable. Bednar stopped practice multiple times to coach a lot of the new guys on where he wants them, and where they’re supposed to be.
The bench boss for the Avalanche is confident Johansen will pick things up quickly.
“Real savvy player,” Bednar said of Johansen. “You can see it. He has the ability to slow it down. He’s always in really good position. He never panics with (the puck). He knows where his outs are. He’s an experienced guy. He’s a guy that will pick up on the systems quicker than most other guys, just because of his experience in the middle of the ice.”
And yes, while I think Johansen is incredibly important to the success of the Avalanche this season, everything runs through MacKinnon.
And Johansen knows that.
“This city is lucky to have that guy,” Johansen said of MacKinnon. “It’s going to be fun playing with him, and getting to know him as a teammate.”