The Nashville Predators took many years to be built into the contenders that they are now. General manager David Poile had made shrewd move after shrewd move in order to put his team in the best possible spot to win a Stanley Cup.
One of those moves was trading Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen in Jan. 2016. It was a move trading from excess to fill a need, which was an impact centerman. Johansen has filled that role scoring 37 goals and recording 150 points in 205 games with the Predators.
During the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago last month, Johansen sat down with NBC to talk about coming up short last season, playing in Nashville and the tough Central Division.
PHT: When you look at last season, especially the playoffs, do you see “Wow, we had a good year” or that was a blown opportunity?
JOHANSEN: “I’d lean towards more of a good year. [We] won the Presidents’ Trophy and it is not an easy thing to do. Our league is so competitive, it’s anyone’s game in the playoffs, but it was definitely a disappointing finish. We felt like we were a better team than that and falling short was just a little disappointing.”
Q. You have a great home environment. Describe Smashville for somebody who doesn’t know.
JOHANSEN: “That’s all you need to say, is Smashville. It is absolutely incredible. It is tough to describe from the time I was traded until now. It is absolutely amazing to see the support for our team, and not only hockey fans but kids learning about the game and learning about the Preds. Young kids, their eyes just light right up when we run into people around town and it truly has turned into a remarkable place to play hockey and I am definitely very fortunate to be there.”
Q. Does it sound differently in that rink than any place else?
JOHANSEN: “When it’s time, and when we’re going and the crowd’s into it, I don’t know how you can compare it or who you can compare it to. I mean, Winnipeg’s pretty fun when they were going, but two years ago when we were in the Finals and we were the underdogs and surprising people and making Nashville fans proud, you couldn’t help yourself but be distracted from it. It was so cool.”
Q. In past years, the success you guys have had, does that start by sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017?
JOHANSEN: Yeah, I think that was a big confidence booster. That was the hump here in the West that we needed to get over. And more than we probably knew it, it gave us a boost where we felt unbeatable after that and we had a swagger to our game, our team game, where no matter what was happening on the ice we were going to keep coming and we were going to get the job done.”
Q. How much does it take out of a player to play in the Central Division?
JOHANSEN: “Whenever we’re matched up against each other it’s a different game than playing other teams. I would say more of the West though, too. There’s just a lot of strong, big hockey teams and, not taking away from anybody in the East but, just with the rivalries between the teams that are close to us, it’s fun hockey. Those are games you want to play in, you love to play in. There’s no days off or else you’re losing, so, especially when we’re in our division, and the games are so important.”
Q. Even though they finished last, last season, are the Blackhawks and guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane still a measuring stick for you?
JOHANSEN: “Definitely as a centerman, being matched up against Toews, who won the Stanley Cup three times, it’s a very fun challenge in competitiveness that personally I thrive on. I thrive on those opportunities to match up with those guys and see where my game’s at and gain confidence from, or go back to the drawing board with my own game and find ways to improve or outplay not only Toews but all the top centermen or forwards in the league.”
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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.