CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Lucas Johansen was just 12 years old when his older brother was drafted. He remembers looking over at his parents and noticing how sweaty their palms were. As Ryan Johansen experienced just about every emotion as he waited for his name to be called, Lucas focused on the bright lights at Staples Center instead of the tension next to him.
Ryan’s stress was short-lived, the fourth overall pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2010 NHL draft. When that pick was about to be announced at this summer’s NHL draft in Buffalo, Lucas was the one anxiously waiting, and Ryan decided to remind Lucas what was at stake.
“I kept saying, ‘As long as you don’t go top three, I’m fine,’ ” Ryan said earlier this summer. “I need to be able to keep those bragging rights.”
“Ryan and I are always so competitive,” Lucas said. “This draft this year, we were sitting in the chair, the third overall pick, I think it was Columbus, he looked at me and said, ‘This is the only time you get to beat me.’ We laughed. It’s just our competitive spirit.”
Brotherly competition helped push Lucas into becoming the defenseman the Capitals drafted No. 28 overall in June. But it’s been Ryan’s support — after Lucas was drafted, Ryan “threw on a Caps hat for about 10 minutes, just excited that he was picked by the Caps” — and occasional advice that has helped guide Lucas through his first months of professional hockey. That should aid him Tuesday, when Lucas and other Washington prospects play the Nashville Predators — the organization with which Ryan plays first-line center — in the Capitals’ last game of a four-team rookie competition in South Florida.
Ryan is five years older than Lucas, and their family competitions weren’t limited to hockey, often battling in tennis and racquetball, too. If it were up to their father, Randall, both sons would’ve become defensemen, believing that was the best route to the NHL. Ryan decided to switch to forward when he was 14, tired of constantly being scored on.
“I kept getting dangled and guys would keep walking around me,” Ryan said. “One day, I just got so fed up that I was like, ‘That’s enough. I want to be the guy doing the dangling and the scoring,’ so I moved up to forward. Lucas didn’t get beat as much as me, so he could handle it back there.”
At the NHL draft, Lucas credited his games against Ryan for why he became a top defensive prospect. “He always had possession, so I had to figure out how to defend him,” he explained. That Lucas was a slick-skating, puck-moving blue-liner appealed to the Capitals, especially with the NHL trending toward players like that.
Ryan’s advice to him before Washington’s development camp in July was to just have fun, show up with a smile and enjoy the first chapter of his professional hockey career. While Ryan played his first NHL season just a year after he was drafted, Lucas will likely have to be more patient. He’s unlikely to contend for a roster spot in Washington this season and is expected to play for the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets for at least a year.
“We have a lot of time for him,” Hershey Bears Coach Troy Mann said. “We did some video with him to actually show just some clips. Hopefully he gets an exhibition game here in the next 10 days in Washington, so we’re just teaching him some finer points of D-zone and stick-on-puck. You can tell he played a different style of hockey in Kelowna than he’s going to be playing here in Washington, but overall, he’s got tremendous upside, and I know the coaching staff, we have a lot of time for him right now.”
Lucas said he expects Ryan to send him a text before Washington’s rookies play Nashville’s. Their first game against each other will likely have to wait a few years, but both brothers are already looking forward to it.
“I’ve been thinking about, and it’s crossed my mind, the situation and scenario and what it will come to,” Ryan said. “I have no doubt that I’ll be playing against him for many years. I’m more excited for my parents to experience that and go through that process. Hopefully, he can keep doing his thing here, which I have a 100 percent confidence he will, and then we can enjoy living our dream for many years in the NHL.”