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To get past the second round, the Predators needed a top pivot man. Enter Ryan Johansen

After 2003--04 the Predators made the playoffs eight times but never advanced past the second round. The problem was obvious and cyclical: Nashville was too good to tank for one of the top five picks that brought franchise forwards—especially centers—but offensively too weak to vie for a Stanley Cup.

That's not to say the Predators didn't try to work around their pivot problem. After losing to the Sharks in five games in 2006, Nashville signed 6'5" Jason Arnott specifically to counteract San Jose's 6'4" Jumbo Joe Thornton. That same season Nashville acquired Peter Forsberg before the trade deadline. Then the Predators lost, again in the first round, again to the Sharks and again in five games—a testament to their Sisyphean struggle for a franchise center.

After acquiring Ryan Johansen from Columbus for defenseman Seth Jones on Jan. 6, Nashville GM David Poile said, "In my belief we accomplished something that we haven't been able to do in our 18-year history, and that's to acquire a No. 1 center." Since changing teams, however, Johansen has been inconsistent. A season after breaking 70 points for the first time, he had eight goals and 26 assists in 42 Predators games, barely surpassing his disappointing first-half stat line with the Blue Jackets (six goals and 20 assists in 38 games).

Still, Johansen has made plays with the puck that no other Predator—save perhaps embattled Alexander Radulov, who left for the KHL in 2008, then again in '12—could hope to try (see: his behind-the-net, behind-the-back spin-o-rama dish to James Neal on Feb. 6 against the Sharks). Johansen gives Nashville the size it coveted (6'3", 218 pounds) along with youthful energy and playmaking ability. To everyone who wistfully wondered what defenseman Shea Weber and goalie Pekka Rinne could do with a real offense in front of them: Now you will find out.

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