The NHL All-Star game is a milestone in the hockey season, a celebration of the sport. But a funny thing happened during the party, Blue Jacket forward Ryan Johansen has added facets to his game that are accelerating his development as a number one center in the league.
"The (All-Star weekend) gave me a boost of confidence," Johansen said. "That’s the main thing. Coming back and playing with our team I have that extra chip on my shoulder to prove to people that I’m an elite player. That’s my motivation after the weekend."
Johansen is already on pace to produce 74 points this season, which would best his regular season total from last year by 11 points. Johansen’s teammate, and fellow All-Star, Nick Foligno saw the uptick in Johansen’s behavior on and off the ice after they went through the weekend together.
"It was a really big maturing point to see him shed the ‘I’m a young guy’ label," Foligno said. "I watched him become more of a man and a person that’s probably going to be the face of this franchise for a lot of years."
For the 22 year-old Vancouver native, his performance ceiling is seemingly not close. In 2011-12, his first season in the NHL, Johansen went 9-12-21 in 67 games. Last year’s point totals were triple those numbers at 30-33-63 in 82 games played.
Foligno saw the change in the All-Star break for Johansen. The Jackets’ head coach Todd Richards started to see glimmers of it even before that.
"He’s using his size," Richards said. "The way he plays physical…is when he gets the puck on his stick. He’s holding on to it, turning his back, making himself big. He’s physical because you can’t get the puck away from him."
Richards, who says that Johansen’s name is often the first that comes up when he talks to other teams’ coaches, sees Johansen going through phases in his development each season.
"I’ve seen cycles with him," Richards said. "His second season compared to his first you saw he felt like he was an NHL player. Now I think he’s starting to see himself as a star in this league, as having the potential to be a star. He’s getting respect from around the league."
The confidence that Richards saw the All-Star game is something he thinks has benefitted Foligno as well. Foligno is already having a career-best season in goals and points with a score line of 23-32-55 in 56 games played.
"I’m sure you learn some things by watching these other players (during the All-Star weekend)," Richards said. "Maybe in the locker room you pick up little things, and that knowledge is part of maturing and building leadership."
Foligno, who served as an All-Star captain, says he relished the opportunity to play ambassador for the city and Johansen believes he benefitted from watching Foligno take on all the responsibilities the role entailed.
"(Foligno) helped me grow as a leader," Johansen said. "I always knew he was a true first class professional, but the way he carried himself the whole weekend â it was fun to watch. There couldn’t have been a better guy to be a captain for one of the teams and take on the challenge to lead the weekend."
Foligno and Johansen currently sit respectively as the number one and number two point earners on the Jackets roster. In the 13 games since the All-Star break, Johansen has four goals and 5 assists and Foligno has five goals and eight assists.
There’s no doubt their performances this year earned them spots on the All-Star roster but there’s a lingering benefit to living that experience that is continuing to earn dividends for both players as well.
"It’s a great honor to represent the team, it’s a great honor to play in your home town," Richards said. "You were singled out as one of the better players in the league and deserve that opportunity â for me it’s about the confidence that gives (Foligno and Johansen)."