COLUMBUS — To call the last five months of Ryan Johansen’s life ‘eventful’ would be an understatement.
In September, the Blue Jackets’ top center was embroiled in an ugly contract dispute. Columbus president John Davidson accused Johansen’s agent of extortion, and Johansen missed all of training camp and the preseason.
Now, the 22-year-old is the MVP of the 2015 NHL All-Star Game.
“You know what? It’s been really cool and it hasn’t hit me yet for sure — this is something I’ll remember for a very long time,” Johansen said, when asked to contrast how he felt now compared to September.
“We’ve just been really enjoying every moment of this weekend and just being in Columbus, in front of our fans and our first [All-Star] game, it really has been a special weekend.”
While teammate Nick Foligno was primarily the face of Columbus this weekend — he served as captain, and was at the center of numerous media requests — Johansen was Columbus’ star. He captured MVP honors following a two-goal, four-point performance in Sunday’s game, but the award came largely on the strength of Blue Jackets fans who flooded social media to vote in his favor.
The MVP nod was a fitting end to the Johansen love-in, which began on Friday — when he was taken No. 1 overall at the Fantasy Draft — and continued into Saturday’s skills competition, when Blue Jackets fans responded earnestly after Johansen wore an Ohio State football jersey during the Breakaway Challenge, then trotted out the 7-year-old son of Columbus trainer Mike Vogt for his second attempt.
“I saw Vogter’s kid ripping around in the dressing room, and I thought, perfect, he would love to have that opportunity,” Johansen said. “So I talked to Mike and we agreed upon it, and he was pumped up to be able to get a chance to do that, and something I think we all really enjoyed.”
Now, not to read too much into this series of events, but…
This was the same Columbus crowd, remember, that spent the majority of the weekend lustily booing Rick Nash — the former franchise star that requested, and received, a trade out of town. It’s a passionate fanbase here, one that has a pretty long memory, and Nash bore the brunt of it over the course of 72 hours.
In September, there was concern “another Rick Nash situation” was at play with Johansen. The impasse between him and the club appeared huge, and the venom spit by Davidson — calling the situation “baffling,” and “so one-sided it’s nonsensical” — had many wondering if another ugly split was in the cards.
Johansen did eventually sign, and played well. But there was no telling what residual effect would come from that spat, or how much damage was done.
This weekend proved there wasn’t any.
“It’s meant a lot, us being a part of it,” Johansen said. “That’s all we’ve been talking about over the last few days is seeing the fans and how much they’ve been enjoying all the festivities and stuff and we did a two-hour signing today at the convention center up there, and everybody just seemed to be having a great time, and all the kids were laughing and smiling and having fun.
“So it’s just been a great thing to see these last few days.”