This ran in last week’s C.I. program for the Preds’ game.
It’s hard to fathom that for pretty much their entire existence, the Nashville Predators have never had a true #1 center. They drafted David Legwand to be that with their first ever pick. You know how that went. Their highest scoring centers over the years are names like Greg Johnson, Yanic Perrault, aging and one-footed Peter Forsberg, and Rich Peverly. The team that lost to the Hawks in 2010 was trotting out Jason Arnott at 35. Colin Wilson as a rookie was the team’s best center the first time they won a playoff round. Mike Ribeiro was as close as they came last year. So you can see what the attraction is for acquiring Ryan Johansen at this age to finally lock down that spot. When you haven’t had something in so long, you’ll drink the sand.
And you may ask yourself, “Is this our beautiful #1 center?” Well, Johansen put up seasons of 63 and 71 points before his 23rd birthday, so that certainly points to yes. He scored 33 goals for the one playoff team he was a part of in Columbus. And that’s with a pretty defensive system and a lack of what you’d call premier wingers; unless Nick Foligno does anything for you, and he really shouldn’t.
Still, you wonder if at least a portion of those points aren’t a result of “bad team bounce.” Meaning that someone has to score the goals on those teams, and players sometimes get a little cushioning of their stats simply because they’re getting power play time and more minutes because the rest of the team sucks. Johansen has never driven possession all that much higher than the Jackets did as a team, and they’ve always been a bad possession team. He has driven scoring chances at a much higher rate than his team, which at least indicates that he’s doing more with the same amount of time with the puck. So that’s a start. It’s also easy to project just how much things might inflate with playing in Peter Laviolette’s go-go system (until Lavvy drives everyone nuts and gets fired). What’s certain is that John Tortorella is scorching yet another team and organization of their talented forwards. He goes from a coach that only talks about blocking shots to a coach who at the very least stresses playing fast and with the puck. Johansen must think he just swam across San Francisco Bay from Alcatraz.
But at what cost? What’s Johansen’s ceiling? Top 10 center in the league? That’s what the Predators want to believe, but that’s a hard class to get into. Meanwhile, Seth Jones looks to be a future Norris winner. He was already the most dominating possession d-man in the league this year, though with the benefit of some cushier-than-normal zone starts and competition. That’s weighed down dragging Barret Jackman’s rotting corpse around the ice though. What Jones could be, and isn’t far away from, is a premier d-man who can dominate at both ends.. There’s only a handful of those around. Keith, Doughty, Karlsson, Subban, Giordano, Brodie, and that’s about it. Do you really let that one go?
Yes, the Preds had a surplus of d-men. But Jones was probably their best one, or close to it. Could they have rid themselves of the aging and expensive Shea Weber to get that center? Could they have aimed lower with Ekholm or Ellis. Did they just irreparably harm their blue line? There could be some very tough answers, especially if Ekholm and Ellis aren’t really ready to take on second pairing minutes.