Through the first month of the season, it’s clear that Ryan Johansen has elevated his game to another level with the Nashville Predators.

With 13 assists in 14 games, his near assist per game pace has been pretty incredible to watch. And he’s not only producing, he’s producing with some other worldly play on the ice.

Like this backhand, no look pass to Roman Josi to give the Preds a 2-0 lead over the Lightning last Thursday.

The vision to be able to see Josi gliding to the far post is one thing. The skill to make a perfectly placed pass is another.

It’s a play that I am sure will be on Johansen’s highlight reel for years to come, but it’s not like he doesn’t have others. There’s the inside pass to set up Viktor Arvidsson against the Islanders (twice). There’s his patient setup of Mattias Ekholm’s goal against the Wild. Then there’s his cross-ice look to Filip Forsberg on the power play against the Oilers.

Johansen has produced so well this year that you’ll find him near the top of several playmaking measurements. He’s tied for 4th among all skaters in assists, he’s 3rd in the league with a +11 plus minus rating, and he’s 3rd in primary assists per sixty minutes.

Since he’s been in Nashville, I’ve maintained that Johansen is the best center the Preds have ever had. This is not exactly a hot take. When it comes to skill and talent level, he’s just clearly better than all the other options.

But while Johansen’s always been a very good center in the NHL, it’s only recently that he’s made some strides towards becoming an elite playmaker. When you see him make plays like he did in Tampa, you know you are dealing with a “next level” kind of player.

All the Preds have to hope is that he keeps it up throughout the season. If he does, you can count on him not only continuing to be an elite playmaker, but setting one or two franchise records in the process.

GIF Me That Good Stuff

Of course the Johansen pass is right up there, but this week I will go with this stretching kick save by Pekka Rinne and subsequent mid-air save by Ryan Ellis.

This Week’s Numbers

  • .948 – Pekka Rinne’s save percentage through 7 games. Interesting that the only player with a higher percentage is Jaroslav Halak (.952) who the Preds faced on Saturday.
  • 53 – Career shutouts for Pekka Rinne. He is now 10 behind future Hall of Famer Henrik Lundqvist.
  • 15 – the number of inches between Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (6’9″) and Preds forward Rocco Grimaldi (5’6″). They took a hilarious picture of it after the game on Saturday.

Let’s Do That Hockey

Not a ton of action this week as the Predators head on their first long road trip of the season.

Wednesday 11/7 – 9:00 PM: Predators @ Avalanche [NBCSN]

Saturday 11/10 – 1:00 PM: Predators @ Stars [FS-TN]

Final Thought

Though it’s been a great start to the season for Nashville, this week features what I think is their toughest challenge so far: a road trip to Colorado. On Wednesday, the Predators will return to face the Avalanche for the first time since Game 6 of their playoff series in April.

You remember the series. The Preds were supposed to handle the Avs easily, but the Avs gave them all sorts of problems. The series wasn’t supposed to go more than four, maybe five games, but instead it went six games and very easily could have gone to seven games.

You could even make the argument that the Avalanche series threw the Predators off their game, derailing their confidence heading into their next series with the Jets.

Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche Ryan Hartman Nashville Predators
The Preds had trouble keeping up with Nathan MacKinnon last year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Image via Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports.

At any rate, the Avalanche are likely the Predators’ biggest challenger in the Central Division outside of the Winnipeg Jets. And through the first month of the season, the Avalanche look every bit the high-powered knockout punch that the Preds saw in the playoffs last year.

The Avalanche funnel almost all of their offense through their top line, even more than the Predators do. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen have tallied 27 of Colorado’s 52 goals. Forsberg, Arvidsson, and Johansen have scored 20 of Nashville’s 47 goals.

Colorado has upgraded their defensive depth with Ian Cole and their goaltending depth with Philipp Grubauer, two key weaknesses from last April. They’ve also had productive starts from three former Preds: forwards Colin Wilson and Vladislav Kamenev, and defenseman Samuel Girard.

Like last year, the Avs bring quite a bit of skill and a whole lot of speed to the ice at both ends.

Facing the Colorado Avalanche on the road this Wednesday will be yet another big test for the Nashville Predators. Yes, it’s still just November, but all eyes will be on how the Preds respond to the speed and skill of a much improved Avs team.

— Featured image via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports —

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