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.