As the offseason begins, we’ll take a player-by-player look at the year that was for the Washington Capitals.
Contract status: $900,000 in 2010-11, $900,000 in 2011-12.
The year that was: Marcus Johansson didn’t get off to the best start in his first season in North America. He was sidelined by a hip flexor in late October, recorded only six points in 26 games through the end of December and struggled mightily on faceoffs. There was some outside discussion as to whether the Swedish rookie should be given more seasoning in the American Hockey League, but, like many young players, Johansson steadily improved as the year progressed.
In the second half of the campaign, Johansson recorded 10 goals and 11 assists in 43 games. He wasn’t hampered by any significant injury, though he played through more than he let on, and showed more confidence regardless whether he was playing on the third line or alongside Alex Ovechkin.
When Nicklas Backstrom was out with a fractured left thumb, Johansson stepped up and proved to be a capable option next to Washington’s franchise left wing, despite struggling previously in that high-pressure role.
In the playoffs, Johansson’s speed was on display as he relished the NHL postseason atmosphere and helped create numerous scoring chances. Both of Johansson’s playoff goals came in Washington’s Game 4 comeback against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, tallies that came from driving the net.
“I thought Marcus Johansson was really good and brings a dimension to the team that we need,” General Manager George McPhee said on the day of the team’s exit interviews. “He brings great speed. He’s really good defensively, and a lot of kids don’t have that early in their careers. I expect his offensive game to continue to blossom, so I think there’s lots to look forward to there.”
Looking ahead: Johansson will be expected to build on his strong second half of the year next season, particularly in the offensive end. As McPhee mentioned in the quote above, Johansson already has a solid foundation of defensive instincts. It was occasionally harder to get the young Swede to assert himself on the other end of the ice, but over the course of the year, Johansson didn’t hesitate to try to get things going offensively.
If Johansson can continue to up his all-around game while consistently contributing on the scoresheet, it can only help the Capitals establish a little more balanced secondary scoring.
Etc.: McPhee made several moves at the trade deadline without giving up any of the Capitals’ prized prospects or young players – including Johansson, who was highly sought after by many teams.
With Johansson, the Capitals took something of a calculated risk that the center would accomplish more in Washington than in Hershey. By season’s end — arguably earlier, even — it proved to be the right move. The Capitals have never hesitated to bring young talent into the fold, regardless of high expectations, and it’s possible they could do the same thing in the coming seasons.