Having been a hockey fan since the “Miracle on Ice” game in the 1980 Olympics (yes, that was the first game I ever watched), I’ve seen a lot of players come and go. I’ve followed the careers of a lot of big-name players: Hall of Famers like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Mark Messier, to name a few.
After being a Columbus Blue Jackets fan for a couple years now, I started wondering how one kid on the team, Ryan Johansen, stacked up with the oldtimers. I understand Johansen is only in his third year in the NHL, well actually his second full year since last year was shortened by the strike. But he has exploded this season with 19 goals in 49 games and he leads the team in points.
So, to make this a fair comparison, I picked 3 HOF centers to compare their first couple years to his. I picked Adam Oates, who was inducted in 2012, Joe Nieuwendyk, who was inducted in 2011, and Mark Messier, who was inducted in 2007.
I’m comparing statistics available to anyone from www.hockeydb.com and www.hhof.com. This is not a serious argument, its only for fun. But with my hockey experience, I see a little bit of each of these players in Johansen’s skillset. So lets see what comes of it, ok?
Mark Messier: Played 25 years in the NHL, 12 of those years in Edmonton with some guy named Gretzky feeding him the puck. But, in his first 2 years, he scored only 35 goals with 61 assists for a total of 96 points. He also had a -22 rating combined for those 2 years.
Joe Nieuwendyk: Played 20 years in the NHL, drafted #27 overall by the Calgary Flames. He scored over 50 goals each of his first 2 seasons, and was +46 combined in 157 games. However, he never scored more than 45 goals in any season the remainder of his career.
Adam Oates: One of my all-time favorite players. Was signed as a free agent by the Detroit Red Wings in 1985, but his first full two seasons were 1986-87 & 1987-88, so those are the years we’ll compare. Oates scored a total of 29 goals with 72 assists the first 2 full seasons..Not big numbers for a center in the NHL. He was also +16 in those 2 campaigns. However, he averaged almost 60 assists in every year of his career, which spanned 22 years. Never a big goal scorer, he seemed to make everyone on the ice better and fed them the puck more than scoring himself.
Ok, lets look at Ryan Johansen’s numbers in his first year and a half. He’s scored a total of 33 goals with 37 assists in his career to date, and is -13 on the ice. Ok, not that impressive, but he doesnt have the quality of teammates that Messier, Oates, and Nieuwendyk had. That seems to be changing though, with the addition of Marian Gaborik (who is injured at present), and Nathan Horton (a proven scorer). It seems that Johansen’s numbers should increase.
However, can anyone see the common denominator in the other guys statistics? Longevity. They each played over 20 years in the league and were productive every year. Now, no one can predict how long Johansen will be in the league. There’s always the possibilities of injury, illness, etc that can derail anyone’s athletic career. But it’s my opinion that if Ryan Johnasen can find the right teammates, the right coach, and the right team, he can make a run at the same kind of numbers these other guys had over their careers.