It was a chance meeting Ryan Johansen still finds hard to believe.
Hours after being traded by the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Nashville Predators, the 23-year-old centre was at the airport when he bumped into Seth Jones — the player headed the other way in the deal.
“We’re pretty good buddies, (but) of course it was awkward,” Johansen recalled earlier this week. “We had a good chat, hung out for a half hour and caught up. Now we’re both on new teams with new opportunities.”
Johansen has been taking advantage of his opportunity with the Predators since the Jan. 6 swap, registering three goals and seven assists in 10 games while centring the first line.
“He’s done a nice job coming in here,” said Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette. “Size and skill, power play, 5-on-5 ... he brings a lot of things to the table.”
Player-for-player, talent-for-talent trades are rare in today’s NHL because of the salary cap, but the goal-starved Predators were in search of a difference-maker up front, while the Blue Jackets needed a high-end defenceman.
“It was a good hockey trade,” added Laviolette. “We gave up a good piece in Seth, but we got a guy back we really felt we needed. More than anything (Johansen) fills that prototypical No. 1 centre type of role.
“The trade refreshed him. It was a new spot, new environment, new opportunity.”
It’s still relatively early, but Johansen has meshed well with winger James Neal, who has three goals and three assists since the deal.
“He’s an unbelievable young talent,” said Neal. “He gives us that offensive firepower that we needed.”
The fourth pick at the 2010 draft with 82 goals and 121 assists in 319 NHL games, Johansen endeared himself to his new teammates early by scoring just 2:35 into his Predators’ debut.
“I’ve been in that position where you go to a new team,” said Neal. “It’s always tough going into a new room. Getting an opportunity early on the power play and he scores, it makes you a lot more confident in your game.”
Confidence isn’t something Johansen is short on these days after helping the Predators sweep a four-game road trip through Western Canada and enter the all-star break in a playoff spot.
But he does admit the writing was on the wall during his final turbulent weeks in Columbus, a difficult stretch that included Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella making him a healthy scratch for a game in December.
“With all the social media stuff nowadays you see all the insiders posting these things,” said Johansen. “I don’t know how, but usually they’re right. In the back of your mind you’re kind of preparing yourself for it, as much as you don’t want to. You want to focus on your job.
“It wasn’t a shock to me.”
The real surprise didn’t come until later, when he saw Jones on his way out of town.
“We just basically laughed and said: ‘This is crazy,“’ Johansen added. “That’s how pro sports works.”Report Typo/Error