Originally written November 20, 2011 on Red Light District Hockey:

This weekend I caught with Blue Jackets rookie Ryan Johansen to get his thoughts his month in the NHL, the team’s tough start and his experience in the WHL and World Juniors.

RLD: A month into your rookie year, how has the experience been for you?
Ryan Johansen: It’s been a roller coaster, you could say. There’s been a lot of ups and downs so far. It’s obviously been a tough start to our season, but in the last few games we’ve made a few steps in the right direction. As long as we keep moving forward, things should turn around for us.

With the team not playing as well as you’d hoped, how do you stay focused and not let it rattle you?
Yeah, we just have to let the past go and look towards the future and the next task at hand. We have to leave all that behind us and we can’t change it. Our focus is just on the game at hand and that’s what our team has been doing ever since we’ve been on this slump. We just don’t want to focus on what happened so far in the season.

You’ve scored the first three game-winning goals for the Jackets. What’s going right in that sense?
I’ve been able to put the puck in the back of the net this year. The last couple games I haven’t done as much offensively as I’d like to. Hopefully I can get more scoring chances and create some more offense.

After the 9-game mark when the coaching staff told you that you were going to stay here for the season, how confidence did that give you?
It was huge for my confidence, especially since I had a really strong game in my ninth game. After that game and once they told me the great news, I felt a lot more comfortable and confident on the ice and with the puck. That definitely helped my play on the ice. It was a pretty stressful time; we went through a couple weeks where that deadline was coming up. I definitely had a bigger smile coming to the rink. It was a relief and a weight off my shoulders.

What was your mindset coming into this year compared to last year, when you were just drafted and new to the pace of the game and all that?
Last year I wasn’t really expecting to make the team. This year I thought I could make the team. I came to camp prepared this year to make the team – that was my main focus. I wasn’t even thinking about going back to Portland or anything else. It was just all about making this team. I’ve done a great job of focusing on one day at a time and that’s what I need to keep doing through the rest of the season.

Playing with a lot of talented teammates in Portland, what was that WHL experience like for you?
That was a tremendous experience, right from the ownership to coaching to the players. It was first class all the way. Our coaching staff was unbelievable – one of the best in junior. I can’t really thank those guys enough. Our owner Bill Gallery did so much for that organization to get it turned around. With all the highly skilled players they brought in, we had a really good year last year, but fell a little bit short. When I look back at it, it was a really successful two years for me. I learned so much from them. They taught me all I know, obviously, because I’m playing in the NHL at 19. I have to give all the credit to my teammates and coaches. If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be here.

It seemed like last year you got better as the year went on; how much of that was getting confidence from playing in World Juniors?
I thought I got off to a bit of a slow start. Once I got back from Columbus, it’s hard to adjust from the NHL to junior. I think that was a real turning point in my year when I went to World Juniors. I knew I had to really step up my game to compete at that level. Once I did that I had a great tournament. I came back to Portland and wanted to keep that same style of game going – that really competitive, high-paced game – and I think that carried over. The World Juniors was the turning point in my year and maybe my career.

When you were drafted, a lot of people compared you to Joe Thornton. Is that someone you’ve looked up to?
Yeah, he’s been my favorite the last few years. The last couple years I’ve tried to watch some of his games to see the little things that he does, and maybe learn from it. He’s such a dominant player when he’s got the puck and on the ice. He’s one of the guys that I look up to and really admire.

What are some of your hobbies off the ice?
In the summers I’m big a golfer because we have no time during hockey season. Once summer comes around I like to get away from the game and get out on the course with family and friends, and have a lot of good times out there. Other than that, I just like to play video games and just relax since we’re always so beat up from games.

What video game are you playing right now?
I haven’t gotten the new Call of Duty yet, so I need to get to the store and grab that. But there are a couple other games that the guys play. We have some NHL tournaments and stuff like that. There are definitely a lot of varieties that we go through.

Photo credit: Getty Images
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