Earlier this week it was announced that Ryan Johansen was sent to the AHL’s Springfield Falcons. The CBJ fanbase collectively lost their minds. Some of them have since regained them, others are still wondering why the hell this happened. While Canadan posted his thoughts Wednesday on the news, there are a few more points I thought were relevant to the discussion that had not received enough attention.
John Davidson and 1st Round Picks
The biggest reason this wasn’t a surprise? The patience that John Davidson has with his 1st round picks. He doesn’t push them to the NHL until they are ready to play the role they will ultimately play when they are developed. A top six forward like Johansen is not going to play a bottom six role. In fact, only one player during Davidson’s tenure in St. Louis became a full time NHLer right away (David Perron), and that had as much to do with his readiness to play a top six role as anything else. Further, Davidson has presided over one of the more patient front offices the NHL has seen over the last few decades. This is highlighted by the patience shown to very high picks Erik Johnson, Alex Pietrangelo, and break out star of this season Vladimir Tarasenko. For a clearer picture on this, here is the full list of Davidson’s 1st round picks (plus Oshie, drafted the year before he took over):
- TJ Oshie – Played three NCAA seasons after he was drafted before jumping to the NHL full time.
- Patrik Berglund - Played two seasons in Sweden after he was drafted before jumping to the NHL full time.
- Erik Johnson – Played one NCAA season after he was drafted before jumping to the NHL full time, was also sent down to the AHL for a stint during his rookie year. In fact, Johnson is the only 1st overall pick to not immediately jump to NHL since Chris Phillips in 1996.
- Lars Eller- Played two SEL seasons and one AHL season after he was drafted before jumping to the NHL full time (with Montreal after the Halak trade).
- Ian Cole - Played three NCAA seasons and two seasons mostly in the AHL after he was drafted before jumping to the NHL full time.
- David Perron – Immediately jumped to the NHL.
- Alex Pietrangelo – Played two OHL seasons after he was drafted before jumping to the NHL full time, although he saw short stints in NHL/AHL both seasons.
- David Rundblad – Played two SEL seasons after he was drafted, then was traded to Ottawa.
- Vladimir Tarasenko – Played three KHL seasons after he was drafted before jumping to the NHL full time.
- Jaden Schwartz – Played two NCAA seasons before joining the Blues late last season.
John Davidson and Bottom Six Forwards
Ryan Johansen was playing on what amounted to the Blue Jackets third line at even strength (his per game TOI was bumped up by playing 3:11 on the powerplay). In my piece on Davidson from earlier in the year, I discussed how Davidson likes to piece together his bottom six fowards. He tends to favor longtime veteran former top six players (Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Keith Tkachuk, Martin Rucinsky, etc.), established bottom six forwards (Scott Nichol, Jamal Mayers, Dan Hinote, Dallas Drake, etc.), and younger players that don’t have top six upside (Matt D’Agostini, Vladimir Sobotka, Jay McClement, etc.). He has very rarely gone outside of this model, and when he has (with Chris Stewart and Alex Steen) it has been a result of having a loaded top six and an established top six caliber NHLer. Johansen does not fit into any of these categories. He is an aberration in the history of John Davidson roster construction and player development. Looking at his handling of draft picks above and his bottom six players listed below, it should be more surprising that Johansen even started the year in Columbus. Here is the list of the bottom six forwards for each of JD’s Blues squads:
2011-12 Vladimir Sobotka, Chris Stewart, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott, Matt D’Agostini, Scott Nichol
2010-11 Chris Stewart, Vladimir Sobotka, Matt D’Agostini, BJ Crombeen, Chris Porter, Cam Janssen
2009-10 Brad Boyes, Keith Tkachuk, Jay McClement, BJ Crombeen, Brad Winchester, Matt D’Agostini
2008-09 Jay McClement, Alex Steen, BJ Crombeen, Brad Winchester, Dan Hinote, Cam Janssen
2007-08 Jamal Mayers, Martin Rucinsky, Ryan Johnson, Jay McClement, Dan Hinote, DJ King
2006-07 Jamal Mayers, Jay McClement, Dan Hinote, Dallas Drake, Ryan Johnson, Glen Metropolit
The “Let the Kids Play” Plan
I won’t spend too much time on this, but I’ve seen a number of people talk about how they admire the Edmonton Oilers plan of letting their youngsters play in the NHL. However, there are a few major differences regarding why this won’t work in Columbus. First off, the Oilers youngsters are a series of 1st overall selections, who possess a higher level of talent than even Ryan Johansen (and significantly more talent than any of the other “youngsters” that could possibly be paired up with the Johan). The other major difference? The Oilers have a group of reliable veterans in Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth. While those players played the tougher minutes in the league, the Oilers have been able to shelter their young guns. The Blue Jackets either don’t have a group of three as reliable, or they are unwilling to use them in the same role. In any case, a lot of the success of the young Oilers is dependent upon playing mostly offensive minutes against easier opponents. One final point on this: what is the proof that the “let the kids play” development plan even works? Edmonton is a fun team to watch, but until I see a few teams on that path develop into a Cup contender, I’ll trust the Davidson patience approach more.
The most obvious stats are 10 games played, 0 goals, 2 assists, and a -5 rating. Those all look pretty bad. However, Johan had been doing a lot of good on the ice, getting a lot of shots on net (21, good for second on the team at the time of the demotion), and winning plenty of faceoffs (50.8%). But there are some underlying factors at play here. It is too early in the season for Corsi, PDO or shot rates to be of any use, but we can look to the stats to see how Johansen has been used and how opponents have used their team against him. Joey has started 61% of his shifts in the offensive zone. This is the highest on CBJ, and would have been good enough for 21st in the entire NHL last year. In other words, Richards has been sheltering Johansen’s minutes in an effort to keep him out of the defensive zone and put him in a position to succeed. That is all fine and dandy, but he needs to produce to continue to justify it. Now here is something else I find quite interesting, Johansen’s Home/Road splits:
Unfortunately TimeOnIce.com is not updated for this season, so I can’t get detailed match-up information without hand parsing the Time on Ice sheets from NHL.com; but what I gleaned from cursory looks is that at home Johansen has mostly faced ideal matchups. On the road, the opposing coaches have been able to get quality matchups. If you were to just look at his home stats, you would wonder why he was being sent down. If you were to just look at his road stats, you would wonder why anyone at all was questioning the move. Johansen needs to improve enough to not be victimized in half of the games.
Johansen’s Role in Columbus
This is the final note, and really the only point I have that is actually about Johansen and his development (the major reason for the move). I’ve seen the suggestion in some places that he could play a top six role if they moved him to the wing. This is absolutely true. But if this happens, when does he get moved back? Probably never. At least not without taking a major step back. The space does not exist for him to play a top 6 role as a center right now. Long term, the Blue Jackets need Johansen to develop into an Eric Staal-lite – a legit top line center they can build the forwards around. To get there, he needs to learn how to play center. That can happen playing top line, top PP and PK as the number one guy in Springfield. It’s not going to happen crammed onto the wing and getting sheltered minutes in the NHL. While it may be looked at as a step back right now, it represents a big leap forward for his potential, and really for the development of prospects by the Blue Jackets organization.