"Boone's been one of those guys all year for us," Johansen said. "He's the same player every shift. I've never seen a guy work so hard on the ice and throw his body around as much as he does. For myself, he creates so much space for me and giving me time with the puck. To go along with his physicality and his speed, he's got great hockey sense and he can make a lot of high end plays. We mix pretty good together."
One player who isn't surprised by the rapid maturation of this group is backup netminder Curtis McElhinney, who played with many of the young players in the American Hockey League last season during the lockout.
"Obviously, I had the opportunity to play with some of them last year, so I knew what they were all about," McElhinney said. "It has been impressive. I think a lot of them have stepped up in, like you said, some major roles. It's been nice to see, it's nice to see that progression at such a young age as well."
As for whether there was a defining moment that suggested to Richards, yes, this is going to work out, there wasn't. He believes the team's experience last season in making a spirited push for the playoffs only to fall a point short was a factor (the Blue Jackets finished tied for eighth in the Western Conference before making the switch to the Eastern Conference with the league realignment).
"I think really from the first month of the year, to me, I think there were moments in their games where they showed me and I think they showed the rest of the coaching staff and the rest of the players that they are ready for this, and I'm talking about playing at this level," Richards said.
"I think there was a little bit of a question coming into the playoffs, are we ready for this, and I think the guys have answered that question."