NASHVILLE — General manager David Poile has made it clear he's been looking for a top centre since first hired to build the Nashville Predators 20 years ago.
He believes he has just that in Ryan Johansen, and that's why the Predators rewarded the 24-year-old centre Friday with an eight-year, $64 million contract. It's the biggest deal the franchise has ever handed out.
"I think he is ready to take that next step to become an elite player in the National Hockey League," Poile said. "Your actions say volumes about what you and how you feel, how this is the longest contract that we've ever given out since I've been here. Eight years, the money is significant, but we feel we got the right man to be our No. 1 centre for a lot of years."
The Predators now have Johansen under contract at an average of $8 million a year through the 2024-25 season, and linemates Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson are signed for the next five years after Arvidsson signed a seven-year, $29.75 million deal last weekend.
Poile said that was the goal this off-season.
"We got our whole core signed up for a lot of guys for a lot of years, and I hope we've chosen correctly," Poile said for a team that lost the Stanley Cup in six games to Pittsburgh in June. "I believe we've chosen correctly."
Johansen, who turns 25 Monday, tied for the lead in scoring with 61 points (14 goals, 47 assists) over 82 games this season. He had 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 14 playoff games this spring before acute compartment syndrome ended his post-season in the Western Conference final. Johansen said he is fully recovered and working on conditioning with the team's strength coach.
Nashville traded for Johansen in January 2016, swapping defenceman Seth Jones to Columbus for the young centre. Johansen says he tried to embrace the challenge of proving in the Predators' run to their first Stanley Cup Final that he is a top centre and sees Nashville as the place where he belongs.
"Just the class that they've shown with myself and committing and trusting me and believing in me for these next eight years is just so humbling and so excited for the next chapter, which is coming up fast with the short summer," Johansen said.
This leaves only one big decision remaining for Nashville. Captain Mike Fisher, 37, is expected to decide within the next week whether he wants to return or retire.