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The Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen Trade, Three Years Later: A Conversation with On the Forecheck

Three years ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators made a blockbuster hockey trade, with the Jackets sending Ryan Johansen to the Predators in a one for one hockey trade.

In that time, Seth Jones has developed into a Norris-caliber defenseman while Ryan Johansen has played as the first line center for a Predators team that has made the Stanley Cup Finals and won a President’s Trophy.

The Cannon sat down with Bobby Misey of On The Forecheck, SBNation’s Nashville Predators blog, to discuss the trade, now three years old.

Jackets Cannon: What were your initial reactions to the trade? How have your perceptions evolved since the trade?

On The Forecheck: When the trade occurred, I think a lot of Predator supporters were thrilled. The team’s top two centers were Mike Fisher and Mike Ribero. There was a clear “hockey need” for the Predators, and they had five defensemen who were either studs or, in Jones’ case, destined to be one. WIth Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, and of course Jones all in the fold, there was a clear surplus on the back end. The trade made perfect sense for each party: Johansen had issues with Tortorella, Jones wasn’t developing on the 3rd pair, the Predators needed a center, and the Blue Jackets needed a defenseman. Everybody won.

However, I had one reservation at the time: the Predators should have traded Ryan Ellis instead. I saw Jones as a blue-chip prospect bound to be a Norris winner and, although Johansen was the first-line center that the Predators have lacked since Peter Forsberg, I thought it was a slight overpayment. Do I ever believe that now. Johansen has been great for us, but Jones may be the most complete blueliner in the league.

On the bright side, I went to the College of Wooster for undergrad and am now a third-year law student here at Ohio State, so not only have I been following the Blue Jackets for a while, but getting the opportunity to keep watching Jones all the time has been amazing. After moving here, I bought my navy Jones sweater in an embarrassingly short amount of time.

JC: Has Ryan Johansen become the #1 center you expected him to? Are you happy with his development and play?

OTF: Johansen fits perfectly into Nashville. I think a lot of people see him not scoring goals and his pass-first play as a problem, but when he has shot-happy wingers like Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, he has no need to. Johansen is hard on the puck and he has developed excellent puck protection. His vision and passing reminds me a little bit of “tiki-taka” soccer players: he makes extremely precise, tight passes even when he has little to no space.

Since coming to Nashville, he has greatly improved his two-way game, and I think some credit has to be given to Mike Fisher. Johansen routinely worked with Fisher on face-offs and Fisher became a real mentor to Johansen. One of my favorite Ryan Johansen plays is from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first round against Chicago, where he absolutely levels Jonathan Toews in the corner.

It epitomizes the Ryan Johansen we see in Nashville: he protects the puck, lays the body on Toews, spins and continues protecting the puck, and finally cuts to make a pass behind the net with Duncan Keith joining Toews to pressure him. Be it in the offensive zone or defensive zone, Johansen has learned how to be a force in the corners and really developed his two-way game.

JC: There were rumors of attitude issues in Columbus with Johansen. Have you seen any of these issues, or has he matured off the ice?

OTF: From what I’ve observed there haven’t been any attitude issues, and I think a lot of that has to do with the guys around him in the locker room that he’s become close with. I mentioned Mike Fisher was a big mentor for Johansen, but he also friends with P.K. Subban and Roman Josi. They have gotten Johansen incredibly involved with charity and spending time at Children’s hospitals. He’s joined Subban on trips to the Montreal Children’s Hospital and recently dressed up as the Grinch during a trip to the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. In November, Johansen took time to meet a player of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League who also suffered from the freak compartment syndrome that knocked Johansen out of the 2017 playoffs. Additionally, Ryan Johansen and his brother Lucas helped host a charity golf event back near their hometown this last summer.

In short, the Ryan Johansen we see now is a lot more grounded than the Ryan Johansen that was traded to the Predators, and that’s been a great thing not just for him, but the Nashville community as a whole. In just a year and a half after the trade, the Predators announced that Johansen would be in rotation for wearing an “A” on his sweater. At the time, his former captains were Nick Foligno, Shea Weber, and Mike Fisher. That’s a pretty fine group of leaders to learn from.

JC: Who would you say won this trade, three years out? Nashville, Columbus, or a good old hockey trade where both teams won?

OTF: As I kind of eluded to earlier, I feel like both teams won the trade, but Columbus received more value. The Predators wouldn’t have made the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 without Johansen’s play up until the compartment syndrome, so they definitely won in a sense of filling a need and it paying off.

However, Seth Jones is one hell of a hockey player. While he may not excel at everything, there is not a single flaw in his play. I imagine an alternate universe where the Predators have Jones paired with P.K. Subban and I begin salivating. If Jones and Johansen were traded again today, everyone would be wondering what made Jarmo lose his mind. Johansen is a good first-line center; Jones is a generational talent.

JC: Has the Nashville defense missed Jones, or would the team have traded him eventually to clear up depth issues and acquire another necessary piece to make a run?

OTF: How do you not miss a player of Jones’ calibur? Sure, the Predators do not miss having 3rd-pairing Seth Jones, but any team in the NHL could use Seth Jones, the Norris-level defenseman. That being said, until Erik Karlsson hits his groove in San Jose, the Predators arguably have the best defensive corps in the NHL. Their top-4 is the most complete group in the league, so it’s hard to say that they miss him. Maybe the best answer is that they would have been better off trading Ellis or another defenseman, but that there was no hole left behind in trading Jones.

The bottom line for the Predators is that they were never going to make a run for the Stanley Cup with the forwards group they had before that trade. Maybe it would have been Jones, maybe another defenseman, but someone on their back end had to be traded for the Predators to have any chance at playing hockey in June.

Thank you again to Bobby and On The Forecheck for this discussion. Best of luck to the Predators the rest of the way this season, and hopefully the Jackets will see them in the playoffs this season.