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Ryan Johansen at Rookie Camp 2012

Somewhat unexpected news hit today when Columbus sent young centerman Ryan Johansen back down to Springfield. It’s something that took a bit of time to sink in and consider: arguably the team’s top offensive talent would not be with the squad for an indefinite amount of time. The move doesn’t quite make sense on the surface, and it also doesn’t make sense from a production perspective (you’ll see in just a moment). However, if this is an effort to rebuild (either culturally or literally) then sending Johansen down now helps the team down the line.

First the confusing part: Ryan Johansen’s production is not nearly as bad as his counting stats line would appear. Through 10 games he had 0 goals and 2 assists. Not an overwhelming number, but when we start peeling things back, Johansen’s performance looks much better. Johansen is third on the club in shots, second among forwards. His shot generation is also first on the team per total time on ice (although I discount Atkinson and Holden as they had played only 3 or 1 game, respectively – they’d take 2 and 1 with their current totals and ice time. You can check out the full team rankings here, and find original data gathered from Hockey Reference). This is to say, Johansen is generating more shots than anyone else on the team with his given ice time.

Taking that apart further, we can look into Johansen’s PDO value (more on PDO here). His is a low 945, one of the lowest on the team. Being that his own shooting percentage is so low (zero, in fact) it’s no shock that the the CBJ shooting percentage with Johansen on the ice is also fairly low. PDO tends to head closer to 1000 as the season progresses and Johansen’s shooting percentage (as well as his teammates’) simply wouldn’t stay that low. Poor goaltending might hold the overall PDO number down, but puck luck would catch up with Johansen at some point (especially if he’s shooting more than anyone else) and his counting numbers would rebound nicely.

(This also says nothing of his Corsi performance thus far, which you can check out here. He’s not facing tough competition – and he shouldn’t – and he’s doing decently.)

So Johansen’s trip (brief or otherwise) to Springfield should not be performance-based. He’s generating offensive opportunities but the chances are not being converted into goals. Thus, on the surface, it seems weird to send one of your best offensive weapons to the AHL.

However, this continues to be a poor year for Columbus as a whole. As of this writing, Columbus was dead last in Fenwick % in close situations (from Behind the Net). The team record is also poor, as can be expected of a team that lacks excellence at any position. If a proper rebuild is to happen, high draft picks are almost essential (barring some kind of late round lucky pick). Ryan Murray is projected to be an excellent defenseman down the line. Adding a top 2 pick again this year would be ideal.

Thus if John Davidson is to be believed in his “brick by brick” mantra, this seems like a logical part of the rebuild. Ryan Johansen makes the Blue Jackets better when he’s on the team, so removing him from the sub-par linemates and playing him in Springfield might make sense for his development and for the “success” of this year’s contribution to a top draft pick.

So note: Johansen’s performance should not be in question yet. The underlying numbers are there and he was perhaps the best offensive weapon for Columbus (albeit on a poor team). Instead, he gets to experience victory and develop with other future Jackets instead of lowering the odds at MacKinnon/Jones or otherwise learning a culture of losing.

Patience is necessary again – this time for the fans and for a player.