It was obvious following an early postseason exit in April that the Avalanche were entering the offseason searching for help at center. It wasn’t surprising that they were seeking a second-line center. However, it was a little shocking when they landed on Ryan Johansen as their guy.

The 31-year-old No. 4 overall pick 13 years ago was coming off a rough season — scoring just 12 goals and 28 points in 55 games — and had two years remaining on his contract with a whopping $8 million AAV. As details of the trade came to light, so too did the Avs’ gamble on Johansen, who is just one season removed from a 63-point campaign. The Avs seemingly set the market on players of Johansen’s ilk. Guys who were deemed expendable on their current rosters but had too high a cap hit to garner much value on the trade market in a flat cap offseason.

Acquiring Johansen at 50 percent retained gives the Avalanche a center with top-six pedigree for two years with a $4 million AAV. It’s a worthwhile gamble and one that could pay off immensely. But it’s not entirely guaranteed that Johansen fits in as the team hopes.

Last week I wrote about Ross Colton, who signed a four-year deal with the same AAV as Johansen. I don’t entirely think Colorado was expecting to pay Colton as much as he ended up getting. But I do think his contract matching Johansen’s is a bit of a security blanket. It means general manager Chris MacFarland has now added two middle-six centers at a combined cap hit of $8 million. Both of them are more than capable of being valuable third-line centers. All they need is for one of them to step up into a second-line role. Regardless of who plays on the second line, MacFarland is expecting his third-line centerman to make $4 million. It’s up to Johansen to outplay the opposition.

But what does Johansen need to do to bounce back in Denver? He’s not quite known for his speed — a large factor in the Avs’ game. Rather he excels with his high hockey IQ, and ability to slow the game down. If he gels with two of Artturi Lehkonen, Valeri Nichushkin, or Mikko Rantanen — three unique wingers known for their play-driving ability — then he’ll succeed with his new club. Johansen’s best seasons in Nashville were when he had consistent wingers and strong chemistry with both Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. The Avs could give him that.

Whether they start him with Lehkonen and Nichushkin, or Rantanen on the second line, he’ll more than likely have two strong wingers to build the same type of chemistry with. For me, the best route to go is to start with both Nichushkin and Rantanen on his wings. And let Lehkonen and newcomer Jonathan Drouin play with top center Nathan MacKinnon.

With Nichushkin and Rantanen, Johansen is given the best opportunity to start strong. Having success early could go a long way for someone that could struggle with confidence after joining a new club. Nichushkin and Rantanen are two goal-scorers, which bodes well for Johansen, who is best used as a playmaker. The trio also would give the Avalanche a behemoth line, with an average size of 6’4 and 215 lbs.

Most importantly for Johansen, this opportunity, which he fortunately fell into, gives him a chance to rejuvenate his career on a Stanley Cup-contending team. His point totals and general usage are expected to rise given the role he’ll be given and the linemates he’ll play with. For a player like Johansen, coming into the 2023-24 season in tip-top shape and with a ton of urgency to succeed makes way too much sense. He’ll be 32 when he hits the open market on July 1, 2025. With the salary cap expected to rise over the next two years, Johansen could land one more lucrative deal before his career ends. The alternative, however, could result in a buyout next summer or being dumped to a team desperately attempting to reach the cap floor.

Johansen has the skill set to succeed in Denver. He’s strong in the faceoff circle, a pure playmaker, and is expected to play with two of the Avs’ top goal-scorers. The trade out of Nashville, where new GM Barry Trotz agreed to eat $4 million in each of the next two seasons on top of giving away a serviceable player for free should be enough of a wakeup call for this to be a success.

It’s up to Johansen to grab a hold of this opportunity.