Wed Oct 12 03:54pm EDT
It's not news that 19-year-old Ryan Johansen started the season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, given his status as the fourth-overall pick in the 2010 draft. What is news is that through three regular-season games, Johansen has played a total of eight minutes and 46 seconds — all in the season-opener.
All of this is being watched very carefully in Portland, where Johansen's presence could really help a Winterhawks team that has gotten off to a 4-4 start (a record that is somewhat skewed by an 0-3 mark against always-solid Tri-City). But with Johansen sitting out the last two games as a healthy scratch, the Blue Jackets look determined to drag out the nine-game audition period they get before having to make a decision on their prized prospect.
He'll reportedly be on the fourth line tonight for the 0-3 Jackets as they host the Colorado Avalanche. Columbus GM Scott Howson spoke today on Johansen:
Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel, who has the final word on where Johansen plays this season, must expose Johansen to the rigors of NHL life without letting him get overwhelmed. He wants to give him time to breathe, but he doesn't want him to sit too long.
"It's a conversation we have every day," Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson said.
"This is what happens with a lot of 18- or 19-year-olds. They have a difficult time getting their feet wet at times.
"We have nine games to make a decision. We're going to use all nine." (Columbus Dispatch)
Not to read too much between the lines, but it sure looks like the Blue Jackets aren't extremely pleased with Johansen's progress so far. Later in the same story, Howson washed his own hands of the Johansen decision, saying that his fate is in Arniel's hands.
At last year's world junior tournament, Howson said on a television broadcast that he he wanted Johansen to "thrive, not survive" in the NHL. At this point, Johansen is barely surviving, early as it may be.
It's not like this is an awful situation for Johansen to be in. He is, after all, on an NHL roster at the age of 19 and earning an NHL salary while he's there. It's OK that he's not the next Joe Thornton quite yet. But many expected that he'd be a solid regular on a promising young Columbus club, and that hasn't worked out so far (of course, Johansen could improve quickly as he did two years ago in Portland).
Clearly, the team would have sent him to the AHL if they could — which highlights how the arrangement between the NHL and CHL can have its problems. Since the Blue Jackets get to pick and choose the nine games Johansen plays before burning a contract year, we could be well into November before they make that determination. That's the team's right, but if he's only getting fourth-line minutes every other game or so, Johansen's not exactly getting much of a chance to develop in game situations.
It's hard to get a read on exactly where Johansen stands at this point. He compared himself to Tyler Seguin last week in regard to how the team is handling him, and Arniel warned that sitting him didn't mean he was "banished." But unless his role with Columbus expands in the next couple of weeks, it seems silly for the team to burn a year of his contract to keep him around as a 13th forward (especially since he's a skill player who should be playing with other offensive-minded forwards).
Meanwhile, Johansen's Portland teammate Nino Niederreiter has yet to resume practicing with the New York Islanders after suffering a groin injury. Since Niederreiter has yet to play an NHL game this year, Portland coach/GM Mike Johnston can't expect to have an answer on either player for quite some time.
With WHL-eligible overagers Taylor Aronson, Riley Boychuk, Oliver Gabriel and Brett Ponich all playing in the AHL and graduates Craig Cunningham and Tayler Jordan now gone, last year's WHL finalists are having to retool on the fly, especially up front.
Scott Sepich is a contributor to Buzzing the Net. Follow him on Twitter @SSepichWHL.