- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Some of his Columbus Blue Jackets teammates joked that now that Ryan Johansen was worth $12 million he would have to pick up a dinner tab or two for missing most of training camp due to a contract holdout.

That’s fine by him. He’s just happy to be back in the NHL.

Sporting a scraggly beard and long hair, Johansen participated in his first team practice on Wednesday on the eve of the club’s season opener at Buffalo on Thursday night.

“The boys are always making jokes,” Johansen said with a grin, referring to the reception he got at Wednesday morning’s team meeting. “But they were all pretty excited to see me in the room. It’s a good feeling to see them happy to have me back. Like I’ve been saying, I’m just going to try to be the best player I can be and get to the highest level as fast as I can.”

He may not get a chance right away. Coach Todd Richards was planning to meet with management and his coaches before making a decision about whether Johansen - the team’s leading scorer with 33 goals and 30 assists a year ago - would play in the opener.

“You could see there were some things that were hard for him, based on the other guys who have spent two or three weeks here,” Richards said of Johansen’s first practice session. “It’s going to take a little bit of time. He’s not going to step right in and be right up to speed (after) practicing with a junior team because a junior team isn’t as fast as the NHL.”

Johansen worked out on the same line with Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson. It was Atkinson who flashed him a welcoming smile when he picked him up at the airport on Tuesday after clearing immigration out of his native Canada.

Johansen, a restricted free agent, held out the first two-plus weeks of camp. He eventually settled on Monday for $3 million for each of the first two years of the new deal, with a third year that will pay him $6 million.

One of his new teammates but longtime adversaries, Scott Hartnell, said he felt he needed to formally meet Johansen.

“I introduced myself to him. ‘Hi, I’m Scott Hartnell,’” he said, the room breaking up in laughter. “Obviously, he hasn’t been around. But all joking aside, it’s nice to have Joey back. You can definitely tell that his first practice probably looks like his 21st practice, he looks so calm and plays so well with the puck.”

While the Blue Jackets were thrilled to have Johansen back in the fold, it was also a day for some bad news.

Brandon Dubinsky, perhaps the team’s emotional leader, will miss the next six weeks after undergoing abdominal surgery earlier on Wednesday. The club was already without forwards Nathan Horton (bad back, out indefinitely) and Boone Jenner (broken left hand, five weeks) and defenseman Ryan Murray (knee, day to day).

Still, the mood in the dressing room is upbeat.

“There’s excitement. We want to get started. We want to play hockey games,” said forward Mark Letestu. “By no means have the injuries put us down. We’re excited about getting started and hopefully (can) pick up where we left off last season.”

The Blue Jackets are coming off their best season in the franchise’s 13 years (43-32-7, 93 points). They won their first playoff games before being eliminated by Pittsburgh in six games in the first round.

Most preseason predictions have the club on the bubble between making and missing the playoffs.

“The naysayers may say what they want, but when we have a belief in this room like we have then we have to go out there and perform and show it,” said Foligno. “It’s going to start with game one and continue through number 82 and then the playoffs and, hopefully, the Stanley Cup.”


Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP

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