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Caps' Marcus Johansson is up to the challenge of being a second-line center

By Jorge Castillo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 14, 2010; D03

This offseason, the Washington Capitals have not addressed their apparent void at center on the second line through free agency. It may be because they hope the answer is Marcus Johansson, their first-round pick in 2009.

Johansson is at the Capitals' summer developmental camp this week along with about 40 other hopefuls, including last month's first-round and second-round selections, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Stanislav Galiev.

It "feels like they believe in me and I appreciate that," Johansson said of being considered the team's second-line center. "I'm going to do everything I can to get that spot and be able to play on one of the best teams in the world. It's a great honor."

Skating on the same line with Galiev and Rochester Institute of Technology junior Cameron Burt, Johansson's skills stood out as he participated in a variety of drills during Monday's afternoon session at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

The 19-year-old Swede signed a three-year deal worth $2.7 million in May, the same day fellow countryman Nicklas Backstrom signed a 10-year contract with the Capitals. The deal includes a clause that allows Johansson to return to Europe without taking a year off his contract if he decides to do so before he plays 11 games for the Capitals this season.

"It's my first look at him, and he carries himself like he's going to be a very good player," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's got the Nicklas Backstrom stride, almost. He's a better skater than him but he's big in the back so you can see where he can control the puck and will be hard to knock off the puck."

"But it's an awful lot easier doing it with no one in front of you than on Wednesday when guys are going to be taking runs at you," he added.

For the past two seasons, Johansson has played for Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League. Last season, he scored 10 goals and added 10 assists in 42 regular season games. He tallied five more assists in seven playoff games. He's also played for Sweden in the World Junior Championships the past two years.

"I think it's a great advantage," Boudreau said of Johansson's experience in Sweden's top league. "He's played against one of the best hockey countries in the world and he's playing on a regular basis."

Along with becoming accustomed to new surroundings and language, Johansson has had to adjust to the smaller NHL ice as well.

"You got to get better at everything," Johansson said. "It's a big difference. You don't got as much time."

The Swede also will participate in the team's rookie camp and is expected to take part in September's training camp. At the training camp, he'll have Backstrom to help him.

"I'm sure Nick [Backstrom], being in his fourth year, will be a little bit of a mentor during camp, just like all the young Russians that come in that Alex [Ovechkin] takes under his wing," Boudreau said. "I think Nick will start doing that as well."

The developmental camp continues through the rest of the week and concludes on Saturday.

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