In addition to echoing praise of Marcus Johansson given by Coach Bruce Boudreau and GM George McPhee, a few of the Capitals' veteran players expressed a particular sentiment about their now 20-year-old teammate who earned a spot on the opening night roster.
"He looks like little mini Backie when he's out there skating," said Jason Chimera, who played on a line with Johansson and Eric Fehr in practice Tuesday. "He's the same kind of player, with the same skating style, same passing style and he's obviously very smart. He's only going to get better as the season goes on."
Since Johansson arrived for rookie camp, many of the veterans watched to see if the young Swede could live up to the praise he received from the team's top brass before he had even played a game in North America. He did.
More interesting than his speed or strong skating ability alone, though, was how Johansson's defensive instincts were readily apparent in each of the five preseason games he played.
It was that "defensive upside," Boudreau said, that helped Johansson stick in Washington instead of Mathieu Perreault. Johansson didn't have too much penalty-killing experience in the Swedish Elite League, but he played a fair amount of short-handed minutes for the Capitals in the preseason and took to the special-teams unit quickly.
"You look at the PK when he was there during the preseason and he didn't look out of place at all," Chimera said. "It's great and rare to see someone like that, such a young kid, adapt to an NHL power play so quickly. That's something that's hard to teach."
As for his main weakness since his arrival in Washington, Johansson has turned to some of the veteran players for pointers on how to take draws in North America. Nicklas Backstrom went through a similar adjustment early on in his career, and is still working on improving his own faceoff ability.
"I was the worst player in the league," said Backstrom, exaggerating slightly. His rookie year he finished 74th among the 86 players in the league who took the majority of faceoffs, winning 469 of 874. "In Sweden, faceoffs are not that serious there. Here you have to know more of what the players do, you have to be stronger but that's something we both have to work on."
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