Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Johansen quandary (Part II)

In Part I, I established the issue at hand and did a little depth chart engineering to see where Ryan Johansen might fit into the Columbus Blue Jackets' lineup.  I'll try to wrap this matter up with some thoughts about what I think would be in Johansen's best professional development interests as an apparently elite young talent in the Columbus Blue Jackets system.

Ryan Johansen appears to be an amazing talent, but is playing
for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now in his best interests?
So let's establish some foundational points:
  1. Ryan Johansen is 19 years old.  He plays center at an outstanding level for his age, as demonstrated by his 40 goals and 52 assists over 62 major junior hockey games last year for the Portland Winterhawks.
  2. Ryan Johansen's professional rights are held by the Columbus Blue Jackets.  It is presumed that he will play for the Blue Jackets at some point in his professional career.
  3. Ryan Johansen cannot play at the American Hockey League level in 2011-12, meaning that he can play in major juniors again or in the National Hockey League.  
  4. I am writing from a position where I am trying to offer insights in Ryan Johansen's best interests.  Where that coincides with the Blue Jackets, all the better.  I believe that if Johansen is developed prudently, he will be a positive force for the Blue Jackets for years to come.  
  5. If Johansen comes to camp and plays to a level where it is impossible to keep him out of the lineup, all bets are off.
That being said, let's dive in.

The Blue Jackets' track record with talent development is inconsistent at best

It's reasonably well known that of the ten first round picks taken before Johansen was picked 4th overall in 2010, only two players - Rick Nash and Derick Brassard - are on the Blue Jackets roster.  John Moore played last season on the Springfield Falcons' roster and is not considered a favorite to make the NHL squad out of camp.  That leaves seven former first rounders who Blue Jackets management let go of for one reason or another.  Doesn't really matter why they're gone...all that matters is that the CBJ management felt the team would be better without them on the roster.

That fact in and of itself is not damning.  However, it requires that the lower round draft picks step up and make the club.  Remember, Henrik Zetterberg was selected in the seventh round by the Detroit Red Wings - and now he's arguably the team's best player.  The problem is that these lower round picks largely are not making the grade.  Take the second rounders from the franchise's inception through 2009 - the same frame of reference as the first rounders:
  • Tim Jackman (2001) - NHL pro, currently playing for Calgary Flames
  • Kiel MacLeod (2001) - Never made it to the NHL, currently in the ECHL
  • Joachim Lindstrom (2002) - Former NHLer in Columbus, now in the Swedish Elite League
  • Dan Fritsche (2003) - Former NHLer, currently in the Swiss-A league
  • Adam Pineault (2004) - Former NHLer in Columbus, now in the Czech league
  • Kyle Wharton (2004) - Never made it to the NHL, now in Canadian college hockey
  • Adam McQuaid (2005) - NHL pro, currently playing (quite well, actually) for the Boston Bruins
  • Stefan Legein (2007) - Never made it to the NHL, last played in the ECHL
  • Will Weber (2007) - Still in college
  • Cody Goloubef (2008) - Just finished first year in the AHL
  • Kevin Lynch (2009) - Still in college
Two current NHLers, both with other NHL teams.  Three guys who are still legitimately in development with the CBJ, be it in college or in the minors.  Six other guys who are still playing but nowhere near the Columbus Blue Jackets system.  That's not a good record.  And it goes on and on, year by year, round by round.  These were the players who were supposed to provide a core to be augmented with the occasional free agent pickup.  It hasn't worked out that way.

We can blame past management and the now-purged scouting department for poorly stocking the talent pond, but at some point the organization has to demonstrate that it can take raw talent that - when not blessed with Rick Nash skill - still had enough talent to warrant being drafted and actually turn them into an NHL player on Columbus' watch.  Instead, we have raw talent that largely is stagnating or regressing.

Of the current core of Columbus drafted and developed talent not named Rick Nash, I can only point to Derick Brassard and maybe Jared Boll and/or Marc Methot as players whose games have improved under Scott Arniel.  (You could make the argument that Grant Clitsome has improved as well, but he was pretty much what he was when he arrived in town and played at a fairly consistent level.)  That actually speaks fairly well for Arniel, but only in relation to the ridiculously poor performance of former coaches when it came to developing young talent (That includes you, Hitch.  Sorry.).

Don't mess with The Johan...or his
professional development!
Thus, when it boils down to it, the Blue Jackets have a poor track record to build upon.  If I was Ryan Johansen, I'd be saying my prayers in the hope that Arniel can build upon his first year.

A winning environment is the best environment for talent development

I wrote back in April that one of the major problems with the talent development system is that the Blue Jackets young "stars" have been reared, professionally, in a losing environment.  In a nutshell, they've been rushed beyond their skill and maturity into positions where they cannot win.  They never taste meaningful success, become accustomed to losing, see their competitive edge erode over time and stall or even retard their professional growth.

Losing hockey isn't the best place for a lot of things, developing young players included.  And while the Blue Jackets have made impressive strides this offseason in improving the club to withstand (dare I say succeed in?) the brutal NHL Western Conference, they haven't won any more games yet as a result.  So would it not make sense to get that winning thing down before injecting a promising yet still fairly raw youngster into the mix?

And before anyone tosses out the Tyler Seguin development model, let me remind you that Boston has missed the playoffs twice since the lockout.  Columbus has made the playoffs once in team history.  HUGE difference.

My Conclusion: What's the rush?

I'll stand behind every last word I've written, and that frame for talent development in Columbus makes me very, very concerned for the development of Johansen.  (Actually, it makes me just as concerned for the rest of Columbus' young bucks...but this is a Johansen article.)  If he's half the talent that he's hyped up to be, he'll solve all sorts of problems for the Columbus Blue Jackets for years if he is brought along wisely.

At the same time, let me pass along a paraphrased thought from new Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff on XM's NHL Home Ice the other day: "I've seen plenty of careers ruined by rushing young players too fast, but I've never seen a young player's future harmed by taking their development slowly."  That, in a nutshell, is what I'm thinking the Blue Jackets need to consider with Ryan Johansen.  Take your time, let him develop naturally.  Don't force it, as tempting as that might be.  

Here's my suggestion: Get the winning part down first and bring Johansen up later.  Let Johansen start his season in juniors and presumably get off to a good start.  Build a head of steam in Columbus, win some games and build needed confidence in the dressing room.  Then AND ONLY THEN, bring Johansen in if it's deemed to be necessary to further build the talent level on the roster.  And, if Johansen gets up to Columbus and doesn't contribute, send him back to juniors before his 10-game "audition" (my word) period runs out and his NHL contract kicks in.

Of course, I'll also maintain that a roster spot should be carved out if Johansen comes into camp and blows the doors off.

What do you think?


  1. You could've linked my round by round draft blogs to help get the point across ;)

  2. If I'm not mistaken, once he's sent to Juniors, that's where he stays for the year (unless there is some catastrophic situation where nobody else is available, I think). His nine game tryout comes at the start of the season, then, and that's when he'll prove if he's ready or not for the NHL. I understand your concern, but each player sets his own timeline for development. Johansen should not be held back by the failures of others. The advantage the Jackets have, now, is that there is no need to rush him, he can rise or fall on his own merits. There is enough talent on the roster that, should he not be ready, he'll go back to Portland for further seasoning. On the other hand, if he looks good enough to be a '11-'12 Jacket, there is also enough talent that he can be brought along in the lineup at a pace that is suitable for his development. In other words, he's not going to be dumped too high into the lineup and expected to learn how to play in the NHL against top liners (see Brule, Gilbert). Until proven otherwise, I'll trust the Scotties to make the right decision for the good of the player, as well as the organization.

  3. En4cer45: Please feel free to post a link (or links) in the comments.

    Pete: On the roster assignment question, I asked around and believe that the 10? 9? games can come at any time. I could be wrong, though, as I have not read chapter and verse out of any official rules on the subject.

    With respect to your comments on my posts, we're largely on the same page. I appreciate that the roster is now deep enough that - barring injury - Johansen will likely find a roster ceiling in Columbus that will be tough to break through. Which begs the question of whether playing on the 3rd or 4th line in the NHL is better than playing all the time on the top line in juniors.

    What it boils down to is the key word you used in your final sentence - "trust". You trust the Scotts to do right by Johansen. With all the forced candor about past mistakes in talent development and roster management by Howson (and more general acknowledgement of the pitfalls of being a young-tenured NHL coach by Arniel at the end of last season), I'm just not there yet. It's one thing to identify and acknowledge past mistakes. It's another thing altogether to exhibit behavior that demonstrates that you've learned from and will not repeat the mistakes. Do I want Ryan Johansen to be the guinea pig to test Howson's ability to learn? Nope. Too much on the line with that kid.

    Still, if he makes such a compelling case that his skill, talent and abilities make him an NHL-worthy talent right now, cross your fingers. I know I will.

  4. Wow. The problems with the first round picks are well documented. This calls to light that the problems run much deeper. Well written DBJ
    When it's all said and done, we don't have much choice except to trust the Scotties, but this makes me more nervous. At least GMSH picks are still in development, so maybe we have turned the corner.
    I do like the emphasis on building a "Win" culture, all the way through the organization. I'm still hopeful that we might finally be moving in the right direction.

  5. Let's face it, the success also depends upon each player's makeup. Last year several draft picks jumped into the NHL, and not all were with teams like Boston. We as fans only get to see a little of what makes a guy tick. We will have to let those involved in a day to day contact make the decision. For sure Johansen is getting a full shot of all the other experience he can be exposed to prior to actual starting of CBJ camp. Your lojic would also apply to all other prospects in the next several years until a "winning tradition" can be established. I think this is just a little too broad of an assumption.
    Well thought out and well presented, just too broad a resulting conclusion. Gary

  6. While I agree with all of the points made here, at the bare minimum he should be given the 9 game period before players have to be sent back to juniors to prove that he is more like Rick Nash than Gilbert Brule.
    While I understand the "culture of winning" between Boston and Columbus is HUGE, that doesn’t mean that the Seguin treatment of Johansen wouldn’t be the best for his development. What exactly is he going to develop at Juniors? Nothing more than what he has already learned.
    Since the AHL isn’t an option, playing 4th line minutes every other game with some power play minutes to get accustomed to the speed of the game while getting plenty of time off to also augment the learning from the press box is probably the better alternative than more Portland. You could even pick and choose the opponents for a bit if you are worried about confidence. I just think getting 40-45 games in Columbus for 10 minutes a game is going to bring him along quicker than 65 games in Portland.


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