How many times have you screamed at your TV, or from your seats in the arena, telling a player to "SHOOT?"
Or how many times have you cursed your computer or phone because you don't agree with the Columbus Blue Jackets lineup?
We're not players or coaches but we've all been there. Sometimes, it really might be that easy. We hear those clichés like "Get pucks to the net" and "keep things simple" or something to that effect. This isn't even wrong to say as it's so straightforward.
We're definitely not going to be confused for coaches, and for all the criticism, and credit, the fans, the media, and all those outside of the locker room give a coach, a player, and a team as a whole, we can probably all agree we don't know as much as an established NHL coach.
Even if the overall record isn't all that glamorous, a coach is a chock full of hockey knowledge. They're armed with all the kinds of raw statistical data, insight, and know-how that the general public doesn't necessarily have access to.
Head coach Brad Larsen addressed one popular elephant in the room in the past week when getting to the crux of the Blue Jackets' development, namely with the likes of rookie forward Kent Johnson.
The debate on the best way of developing young, talented NHL players continues.— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) November 21, 2022
A lot of fans (understandably) want to see more of Kent Johnson. Brad Larsen has been (understandably) cautious with Johnson's ice time at times. Here's what he said Friday when I asked about KJ #CBJ pic.twitter.com/DFbBvBBDu7
A couple of lines from the passage stuck out.
When you start moving (Johnson) up the lineup, guess who he's playing against? We have Detroit and Florida coming up, and that's (Alexander) Barkov, who's 6-3, 225, and the Sam Bennetts and those guys we all talk about.
The Jackets of course split the two games against the Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers. Against Detroit, Johnson was pointless in 13:38 ice-time. Versus the Panthers, he had a goal in 13:26.
Scott Wheeler addressed the question about Johnson's role in a summer interview.
I think if they play him with the right linemates...if they play him at the top of the lineup...if they play him on the first power play, he’s going to have a good year.
I think (Johnson) is capable of playing with those kinds of linemates. He's not a guy who is built for playing in a third-line role.
And whether he sees Johnson as a center or winger.
I tend to like players like him at center. Just because he gets more touches, he has a feel for the puck more often, but I fully expect that he's going to be an NHL winger.
I just think because of how skinny he is, NHL coaches are going to see him walk into the locker room and say that's not the kind of player that we want scrapping and fighting and playing against 210-pound centers in the NHL.
Most centers in the NHL nowadays are pretty thick guys. And that's just not (Johnson). He's always struggled to put on weight. He's a very sort of wiry guy. And I think that game lends itself to playing on the flanks, less defensive responsibility, that kind of thing. So I expect he’ll be a winger even if he's probably a slightly more productive player down the middle.
Larsen's quote continued.
I think he has a good head on his shoulders, but some of it is a strength issue at times, some of it is wall battles, some of it is puck decisions. All of that goes into it.
What you don't want to do is put him in a situation where he's taking on water and all of a sudden his confidence is gone.
Again, it's really easy to see Johnson make plays as he did with Boone Jenner and Johnny Gaudreau in a win over the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 17 and want more.
And how the trio connected for a goal in the victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 15.
Personally speaking, I was right there with most of the crowd clamoring for more.
#CBJ should roll with Gaudreau-Jenner-Johnson going forward. Jenner is on Gaudreau is playing well, and Johnson can hang.— Will (@willgchase) November 18, 2022
What we've seen among the Gaudreau - Jenner - Johnson line in the brief time they've been together has displayed magical results. If Larsen decides to roll with that line more often, maybe the offensive chemistry continues off the charts.
|Gaudreau - Jenner - Johnson (5v5)||GP||TOI||GF||GA||xGF||xGA|
|via Natural Stat Trick||16||4:58||1||0||0.1||0.13|
|Gaudreau - Jenner - Johnson (All Situations)||GP||TOI||GF||GA||xGF||xGA|
|via Natural Stat Trick||16||17:52||4||1||2.42||1.17|
As the trio has shown in a small sample together on the ice, and as we've seen, both with the eye test and analytically, they've performed admirably. On the other hand, maybe the idea of bringing Johnson along slowly and preaching patience isn't wrong if he's being propped by timely, situational, awareness.
Many hyped prospects have failed in their Blue Jackets tenure. Others have had to overcome adversity and find their game, such as the recently demoted Emil Bemstrom.
Perhaps the limited opportunities we've seen of Johnson in bigger roles have kept him from being exposed. Maybe Larsen isn't wrong when he raises the potential challenges that likely await any young player going up against established NHLers from opponents' top lines every night.
Should Johnson play more than 12:46 a game? Probably so.
That average time-on-ice number has ticked up slowly over the past few games. He topped 14 minutes (14:17 on Wednesday versus Montreal) for just the fourth time this season. For qualified players on Natural Stat Trick who have played at least 200 minutes this season, Johnson ranks 442nd in the league.
Among Blue Jackets regulars matching Johnson's total ice time (175:31) in 5v5 situations per NTS, Johnson is third in goals per 60 (1.03), second in total assists per 60 (1.37), first in first assists per 60 (1.03), third in GF/60 60 (3.08), third in xGA/60 (2.59), second in total points per 60 (2.39), and he's tied for points (nine) among rookies entering Friday's games, with his four goals tied for fourth.
Larsen talks about the game's script changing on a game-by-game basis. Whoever he feels is his top line in that night's game, regardless of the names on the back of the jersey, are the guys he'll lean on.
A lot of times this season, that's been the Eric Robinson - Sean Kuraly - Mathieu Olivier line and whoever happens to be alongside Gaudreau and Jenner on the top line. As was the case against the Canadiens in Wednesday's loss. Olivier scored his second goal of the season and has both of his tallies against the Habs this season. He had a matching season-high five shots in both games against Montreal.
|Robinson - Kuraly - Olivier (5v5)||GP||TOI||GF||GA||xGF||xGA|
|via Natural Stat Trick||14||125:40||6||6||5.25||6.87|
|Robinson - Kuraly - Olivier (All Situations)||GP||TOI||GF||GA||xGF||xGA|
|via Natural Stat Trick||14||128:16||6||6||5.25||7.08|
Some would argue about the number of opportunities the fourth line of Robinson - Kuraly - Olivier gets but they're bringing production on a nightly basis. Olivier in particular won't be confused for Johnson and his skill, but Olivier does bring a lot to the ice that coaches still like.
You can also make the case that bona fide contenders aren't feeding—but also aren't forced to feed—their fourth line so much to win games.
When Larsen's job is to win games, he's going to do so with the method he feels gives him the best chance to do so.
Even if that means towing the delicate balance of rewarding his players' play, developing emerging talents, and going against the conventional wisdom on social media in how he utilizes young players. Or what is ultimately greater for the direction of the organization in the big picture.