With only 21 games left in the season, the Nashville Predators are making an awkward, last-minute push for the playoffs. Despite all of their misgivings as a team, they remain only two points out of a wild card spot as of today. Even with how the Preds respond to big wins, like the weekend sweep of the St. Louis Blues a week ago, with puzzling losses, like the 4-1 loss to the Hurricanes and the overtime loss to the Blackhawks, the Preds are still in this thing.

Somehow, like a college student who procrastinated all semester, they are still one or two all-night study sessions away from passing the final exam.

One key to getting there however will be the play of top center Ryan Johansen. Sitting at only 34 points in 61 games, Johansen’s production has been the focus of many who say the Preds aren’t getting enough out of their top forwards. He’s hardly the only one, as you could name Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Kyle Turris in the same complaint, but Johansen’s role in the overall under performing nature of this team cannot be ignored.

Because of that, Johansen has seen his ice time take a dip over the last few games. While his overall even strength ice time has actually gone up since Hynes took over (13.5 per game compared to 13.2 per game), that’s starting to trend downward.

In his first 13 games under Hynes, Johansen averaged 16:14 minutes of ice time overall, gathering only five points in that span. In the next seven games, he averaged over a minute less at 15:01, and gathered only three points in that span.

When asked about Ryan Johansen after Saturday’s win over Columbus, John Hynes admitted that he needs more from his top center.

“I think it’s been up and down, I think there’s times when he’s played extremely well. He’s had a few good minutes. I think there’s other games where we need a little bit more from him. I see a player that, he really cares. I think he knows that he can be better in certain areas.”

And, according to Hynes, the key to getting Ryan Johansen back into the mix for the Preds will only come from Johansen himself. He’s going to have to earn the time back, and then keep it.

“It’s my job and our job as the coaches is to continue to help him find out how can we help him get to be a guy that I would like to be able to play 20 minutes. But you can’t just give it to guys. They have to be able to earn it. And keep it. And play the game the right way. I really like Ryan, I think he’s a very strong competitor, and we’re trying to help him. He’s gotta help himself get back to the level that he can be a guy we can rely on to play a few more minutes every night.”

It’s that “help him to help himself” mindset that Hynes seems to rely on a lot with his players. He knows he and his coaching staff can’t do it for them, they have to find the will to improve from within.

Ryan Johansen does appear to be responding to Hynes’ coaching, at least by some measure. In particular, Johansen is getting better expected results despite an increasingly difficult workload. His expected goal share (xGF%) is up from 49.0% under Laviolette to 51.5% under Hynes, despite his number of offensive zone starts plummeting from 62% under Laviolette to only 39% under Hynes.

In short, Johansen has had tougher assignments under Hynes. He’s pivoted to a more defensive, shut-down forward rather than the offensive playmaker he’s been in the past. Given that, you’d expect a guy in that position to put up a bit less offense, given that he’s spending most of his time defending and getting the puck out of the defensive zone.

Still, expectations are high for a guy like Ryan Johansen. His 21 assists are 6th on the team. Even Ryan Ellis, who has been out since January 1st, has more assists this season.

Johansen makes $8 million per year and will do so until at least the 2024-25 season. If the Nashville Predators are going to make the playoffs, and make a return on their investment in Johansen, they are simply going to need more.

Preds Quote of the Week

“I wanted to see if I could pull him to the backhand. Honestly, I’ve never gone backhand in my life on a breakaway or shootout. Maybe when I was ten, but every goal I’ve ever scored on a breakaway has been forehand.”

-Rocco Grimaldi on his shootout winner against the Columbus Blue Jackets

GIF Me That Good Stuff

Another important forward that hasn’t been scoring recently, Filip Forsberg is still making some plays out there. Here’s a really nice pass to Mikael Granlund off the rush.

Get Them Digits

  • 4 – consecutive games without a point for Roman Josi, a season high
  • 5 – number of back-to-backs remaining on the schedule for the Preds
  • 12 – career made shootout goals for Filip Forsberg, a franchise record

Let’s Do That Hockey

  • Tuesday, February 25th vs Ottawa Senators (7:00 PM; FS-TN)
  • Thursday, February 27th vs Calgary Flames (7:00 PM; FS-TN)
  • Saturday, February 29th vs Colorado Avalanche (6:00 PM; FS-TN)

Final Thought

The trade deadline is here! To discuss all of the Nashville Predators options, Chris Link and I held a special one-hour episode of the Preds NashCast. We touched on all the possible defensive options, plus we recapped a few of the early trades in the NHL.

Check it out on Soundcloud (linked above), iTunes (link), and Spotify (link). We record every two weeks, with more frequent episodes to come as the Nashville Predators approach the playoffs.

— Featured image via Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports —

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