With neither side ready to budge in the contract negotiations for restricted free agent center Ryan Johansen, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards is making plans to start without his top center.
Johansen had a career year in 2013-14 scoring 33 goals and 63 points in 82 games as the team’s top center.
However, without him under contract, Richards plans to move his centers up a line.
“We want him in the lineup,” Richards told the Columbus Dispatch. “But we’ll move on without him if he’s not in the lineup. It’s like an injured player. If he’s not there, he’s not. You have to move on. You don’t have a choice.”
Ideally, the Jackets depth chart at center would begin with Johansen followed by Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Mark Letestu – not a bad looking group.
In his blog, Aaron Portzline suggests that without Johansen, Dubinsky, Anisimov and Letestu could all move up a line without being asked to do too much.
The team also believes 21-year-old Boone Jenner could move from the wing to his natural center ice position.
“Boone is an obvious choice to move, if it comes to that,” Richards said. “His flexibility is a real asset.”
If Johansen isn’t in the mix to start the season, prospect Alexander Wennberg’s chances of making the team also go up.
Wennberg, the team’s first-round pick (14th overall) in 2013, scored 16 goals and 21 points in 50 games with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League in 2013-14.
“I’m bigger and stronger, one whole year of growth,” said Wennberg. “It would be a great opportunity for me, yes.”
Going in to the season without Johansen isn’t ideal, but Richards is making plans for that scenario and he has options.