Ryan Johansen already getting an assist from Jeff Carter

The Columbus Blue Jackets passed on a few talented blueliners when they selected Ryan Johansen with the fourth overall pick in the 2010 Entry Draft. Instead of picking the highly touted Cam Fowler or Brandon Gormley, Columbus went with the Portland Winterhawks’ Johansen because he’s a big, talented kid who looks tailor-made for the NHL. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he plays center.

Since the moment Rick Nash was drafted with the #1 pick in 2002, the Blue Jackets have been looking for a top-flight center to serve as his running mate. A ying to his yang. A Gretzky to his Kurri. Pick your metaphor—they wanted to pair him up with a star center to create one of the most dangerous 1-2 punches in the league. By trading for Jeff Carter this offseason, Columbus finally has the top line they’ve been dreaming about for a decade.

The timing of the trade couldn’t have been better. As Carter embarks on the second chapter of his career in a new city, Ryan Johansen is expected to make a serious push for an NHL spot this season. They hope he’ll eventually evolve into a top-line pivot that can match up with the best of the best. But for now, top-line duties might be asking a bit much from the 19-year-old.

That’s where Carter comes in.

Carter taking over the center position on the top line means that Derick Brassard will be able to move down to the 2nd line center. In turn, it means Johansen will be able to ease into the NHL without facing elite competition on a nightly basis. Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel explained the new dynamic to NHL.com:

“Obviously, we’re in a different position than maybe we would have been two months ago prior to the Jeff Carter trade. We drafted Ryan because we needed to get stronger through the middle of the ice. He has an opportunity to come in and battle for a job on our hockey team, but at the same time he doesn’t have to be one of our top two centers if he does make our hockey club. He’s a talented kid who can play in a lot of situations.”

The smart money is on Johansen to make the team out of training camp. Like Brayden Schenn last season, Johansen is in the awkward position of making the NHL club or being sent back down to his junior team. Only time will tell if he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL, but he’s certainly accomplished all he can in the WHL. He’ll get every opportunity to make the Blue Jackets since the American Hockey League isn’t an option.

The Blue Jackets look to have improved depth up front if their forwards are able to stay healthy this season. Derick Brassard, R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette, Kristian Huselius (when he returns), and Vaclav Prospal join Nash and Carter as legitimate scoring options this season. If Matt Calvert can continue to mature and Johansen takes the next step, the Blue Jackets could have depth that the Buckeye State hasn’t seen since… well… ever.

Carter moving to the top of the roster will slide each center back into their appropriate position. The next step is showing that they can perform in their expected roles.

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.

For Tuukka Rask and the Bruins, a ‘bad goal’ at the worst possible time

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The growing ranks of Tuukka Rask detractors gained some serious ammunition during last night’s loss to Tampa Bay.

The deciding goal in the 6-3 defeat was a “bad one,” according to Rask and most anyone else who was watching.

It may have been a hard shot by Jonathan Drouin, unleashed at the top of the circle, but it still should’ve been stopped.

After the game, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters that Rask “needed to be better tonight.”

In fact, Rask hasn’t been very good the past few months. Since Jan. 1, his save percentage is just .888. But with nobody trustworthy behind him, he’s had to just play through his struggles.

It’s impossible to say if Rask’s numbers would be better if the Bruins had a more capable backup. He’d be more rested, though. And when he was struggling, the coach would at least have another option to consider. With an .897 save percentage on the season, Anton Khudobin simply hasn’t been reliable enough to garner that consideration.

Don’t expect Rask to get the next game off. Saturday in Brooklyn, the Bruins — losers of four straight in regulation, and suddenly on the verge of falling out of the playoff picture — face the Islanders in arguably the biggest game of both teams’ seasons.

Bolts recall Koekkoek, putting Garrison’s status into doubt

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The Tampa Bay Lightning, after earning a big win last night in Boston, may not have defenseman Jason Garrison tonight in Detroit.

The Bolts recalled d-man Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse this morning — a move that would seem to put Garrison’s status into doubt against the Red Wings.

Garrison was forced to leave the Bruins game in the second period with a lower-body injury.

Koekkoek has played 29 games for the Lightning this season, recording no goals and four assists.

Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash

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Sidney Crosby won’t face a disciplinary hearing for his slash on Ottawa d-man Marc Methot, an NHL spokesman confirmed — news that won’t be welcomed by Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

The incident occurred during Ottawa’s 2-1 win on Thursday night, and forced Methot from the game with a bloodied, lacerated finger. The club later announced that Methot would be “out for weeks” with the injury.

Crosby’s slash came two nights after he speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt. It should be noted that neither the O’Reilly spear or Methot slash resulted in penalty calls, and neither was subjected to supplementary discipline.

One individual that’s guaranteed to be upset with today’s news is Melynk. He appeared on TSN 1200 radio this morning and seemed to suggest the league was looking into the Crosby-Methot incident.

He also had a few choice words for No. 87: