Could Ryan Johansen be the Blue Jackets next captain?
An argument for #19.
Columbus is long overdue for a captain. Todd Richards, Jarmo Kekalainen, and John Davidson respond with various reasons as to why a captain has not yet been named; the chemistry in the room, no clear choice stepping forward, among others.
It may be questionable to challenge the coach's choices in the midst of a win streak, but I think this is a conversation that shouldn't be ignored. Every other team has a captain, and it's not a common occurrence that a team goes two full seasons without a named leader.
But the more I think about it, the more I may see what Richards is trying to do. This may be giving him too much credit, or it may be wishful thinking, but between Brandon Dubsinky and Jack Johnson, there are clear candidates to wear the C in Cbus. Yet, I'm starting to think that maybe they aren't the obvious choice long term.
Why: Johnson's pedigree is clear. You don't become captain of Team USA by accident. He's the backbone of this team. You could easily cite his trade to Columbus as the moment that this team started crawling back from rock bottom.
Why not: He's struggled this year, and although you want to reward loyalty and hard work, it's a business. The last thing the Blue Jackets need is to name another captain that is traded within a few seasons. With the way his play is tracking and the emergence of Ryan Murray, Johnson could end up the odd man out over the next couple seasons, if only because he has the most movable contract.
Why: Dubinsky is the heart and soul of the club. He may put up better than 60 points for the first time in his pro career. He pushes everyone night in and night out. Speaking for myself, though I'm sure this goes for others, I've longed to see this kind of passion in Columbus for years. The days of seeing Rick Nash shrug off an awful game are gone.
Why not: He's a hothead. Teams often take on the personality of their leader. It may just be too risky to give his outbursts the backing of the C on his jersey. You can't have your captain leading from the locker room because he got a game misconduct.
That brings me to the Blue Jackets emerging superstar. He's had his ups and downs. Just a year ago, he was benched in the American Hockey League, which is troubling. Richards has always been harder on Johansen than seemingly any other player, quick to criticize but slow to praise. He challenged him to work on the defensive end of his game before giving him the opportunities to find his offensive prowess. In that way, it reminds me of the early days of Ken Hitchcock coaching Nash, and we saw how that elevated his play.
Perhaps the tough love from Richards has been his plan all along. It's important to have a leadership group in place, and maybe Dubinsky, Johnson, Mark Letestu, et al., make better alternates than captains for where the Blue Jackets are heading. Johansen is a player that could have another 15 years in him. He's not a superstar on Nash's level, so the draw to jump ship may be lessened, at least in the near term. His age allows him to connect with the younger players on the team, both now and moving forward: Boone Jenner, Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel, and Marko Dano.
Johansen has a genuine joy and enthusiasm that he brings and just quietly gets the job done. He's just now growing into his man-sized frame both physically and mentally, and I think that is a huge factor to his breakout season. He's got the fundamentals down on the ice and has had the work ethic drilled into him by Richards & Co.
Unlike Nash, he doesn't seem to have the need to try to do everything himself. He'll happily dish it off and set others up in a good situation to score. That, to me, is a characteristic of a player that makes those around him better. That is an excellent trait to have in a leader.
The time may not be now, or this season at all. He will need to be tested in the grind of the next 30 games, and hopefully the playoffs. If he continues playing at this pace, with this passion, and this work ethic, I think next season will be the time. Come October, get the sewing machine ready for a fresh C on jersey #19.