Midway through the season, Ryan Johansen was sitting in the dressing room after a morning skate when I asked for an interview. I had interviewed Johansen as a prospect and he was always polite, but today he was confident and jovial. He slapped the bench and invited me to sit down beside him for the brief chat. That was new.
But as he proved in the Game 2 double-overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, Johansen has hit his stride and is playing like a star in the making. Johansen had a goal and an assist in Columbus' first playoff win in franchise history, a 4-3 triumph iced by Matt Calvert on a scramble in front of the Pittsburgh net.
Johansen continued his excellent play from the regular season, where the 21-year-old broke out for 33 goals and 63 points in 82 games. Even though he was taken fourth overall in the 2010 draft, the 6-foot-3 center was always going to be a long-term project; he wasn't going to jump straight to the NHL and contend for the Calder. But now that he has gotten stronger, those raw tools are paying off. The reach, the skating, the shot - all potent weapons.
And the Jackets aren't hiding him in against the Pens; he's taking faceoffs against Sidney Crosby and making his bosses proud by putting up points in a series that all of a sudden is up for grabs. Columbus has a loyal fan base that is starving for success and a win on home ice in Game 3 would be trouble for a Penguins team that has underachieved in the playoffs lately.
No matter how this series ends, I wouldn't be surprised if we look back in the very near future about that first post-season showdown between Ryan Johansen and Sidney Crosby - the Jackets youngster may not be on the same level as Sid overall, but he's proving to be a worthy adversary, to say the least.