Can We Talk About Ryan Johansen's Ceiling?

Jared Wickerham

Leading the team in points, Ryan Johansen is having by far the best season of his young career. How much better can he get?

I wrote not too long about about the rhetorical question of whether or not Ryan Johansen was making "The Leap" this season, as it were. While we're still a long way from the end of the season, by all accounts Johansen is certainly playing more and more like the "#1 center" many fans idealize each and every game.

First, some quick reflection on Johansen's season to this point. His assist on last night's lone goal gives him 10 for the season, to go along with his 10 goals. He leads the club in goals and points. 19 of his 20 points have come in the last 23 games, including all of his goals. That span is a point pace of 68 points over an 82 game season.

Overall, Johansen is on pace for a what amounts to a 30/30 season (the math puts the splits at 29+ goals and assists, though neither *technically* gets to 30; we're rounding up). We showed last month that his defensive numbers have been as good--or better--than last season, and this year on offense he's not only upping his point numbers, but he's creating more offense for himself and his linemates. Johansen has 77 shots on goal in 28 games; consider that he only had 84 shots on goal last season in 40 games. And, beyond that, he's converting at 13.0% this season on those shots, compared to just 6.0% last season.

And, the goofy thing is, as well as Johansen has played of late, Todd Richards wants more.

In my piece from earlier in November, we took a look at some of the advanced stats for Johansen's game thus far. I'm not going to do that again, since I don't think it's a valuable exercise so soon after doing it last month. We're seeing the offensive numbers continue, and that was the thesis of that original post. Today, we're talking more in the theoretical. So, with that in mind, where is Johansen's "ceiling" really?

Let's start with the guy after whom he has said he patterns his game: Joe Thornton. In an interesting comparison, in Thornton's first year he didn't do much offensively, with just 3/4/7 in 55 games (granted, he was a year younger than Johansen, as Boston played him in the NHL right after he was drafted and Johansen went back to juniors for another year). While Thornton's second year was better offensively than Johansen's, it's interesting to note that in Thornton's third year he finished with... wait for it... 60 points in 81 games. That was the year he really made his "leap" as well.

From there, Thornton became a guy who was an over-a-point-per-game player for the next four seasons leading up to the '04'-05 lockout: he played 292 games, scored 118 goals, and had 195 assists (313 points). This doesn't even account for Thornton's defense, which is something Johansen has already shown. We don't have advanced stats for Thornton from back then (or, at least, I couldn't find them), but he was a cumulative +33 over those four years as well. Before you say that good offensive numbers equate a positive +/-, remember that Rick Nash once scored 41 goals for us while going -35 for the season.

It's certainly unfair to expect that Johansen's going to pile up 370 points over this and the following three seasons, simply because he reminds us a bit of Thornton both in size and in offensive game. That said, we've seen what some confidence and a little maturity--both physical and mental--can do for this kid. As he's continued to get stronger, he's continued to be a frustrating guy for opponents to go up against.

It's seemed like a light switch flipped for Johansen around the second or third week of the season. He finished October and started November by going 4/3/7 in the last six games of October and the game on November 1. Numbers-wise, he's been streaky, to be fair. In that 23-game span in which he's put up 19 points, it's important to note that he has 12 games with no points. So, that means he's put up those 19 points in just 11 games, including six multi-point games.

So, where Johansen's going to continue to improve is in that area of overall consistency. I'm not saying he's had a bunch of bad games with some good ones sprinkled in; far from it. I think what the "next" step for him will be is to bring that offensive impact on a more consistent basis. That's how he can get to Thornton's level. Part of that will also hinge on who he's playing with. I love that Johansen's goal scoring has improved, but when he gets guys that can consistently finish on his wings (like Nick Foligno has been doing of late), that's when the crazy assist totals that Thornton puts up will start to come for Johansen as well.

So, what do we think? How much better can Johansen get? Would we be content with 60-70 point seasons, or, like Todd Richards, do we want more? Let us know in the comments.

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