Ryan Johansen is busy with his own professional hockey career, as a top-line center for the Nashville Predators, but “of course” he still checks up on his little brother.
“I saw his first game; he was a minus-4,” Ryan said recently. “And he’s been playing great within a couple of weeks. It just shows how fast of a learner he is and how motivated he is to get better.”
The Capitals have almost certainly noticed the same. They drafted Lucas Johansen with their first pick of the 2016 draft, 28th overall, and in his first season of professional hockey, the defenseman has five goals and nine assists through 26 games with the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey. Washington didn’t think the now-20-year-old was ready for the NHL yet, cutting him at training camp so he would get more seasoning in the AHL.
“The main thing I said to him was there’s no time to be frustrated or disappointed or anything like that,” Ryan Johansen said. “Look at it as an exciting opportunity for you to go there, get better and develop. The American Hockey League is a phenomenal developing league – I played in it for half a year – and go down there with the mind-set of getting better. Just approach every day as trying to be the best person and player you can be, and you’ll start your NHL career in no time.”
As with most young blue-liners, Lucas Johansen likely has work to do on the defensive aspects of his game, but his offensive production in his first season is encouraging — perhaps to the extent that the Capitals would consider recalling him if they suffered another injury on the blue line. Washington’s management and coaching staff touted its defense pipeline before the season as an organizational strength, and while the team may have intended to have more of a blue-line rotation with those prospects to get them NHL experience, rookies Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey have settled into NHL roles, perhaps permanently.
Along with Johansen, the team also has Jonas Siegenthaler, Colby Williams and Connor Hobbs in the AHL. With John Carlson and Taylor Chorney in contract years, it might not be long before some of those names are on the NHL roster.
“Obviously, [Lucas] needs some more time to be a trustworthy defenseman, and they have a couple older guys ahead of him,” Ryan Johansen said. “But that’s how I view Luke and his game — as a trustworthy, smart two-way defenseman who you can count on in any situation.”
Burakovsky’s first game back
After Andre Burakovsky missed 20 games with a broken left thumb, he played 14:08 on Friday night against the New York Rangers and recorded one shot on goal. It typically takes time for players to rediscover their timing and comfort on the ice after a long injury, but Coach Barry Trotz was encouraged by what he saw.
“I thought he skated really well,” Trotz said. “He didn’t look rusty. He had good jump and was excited and making plays and, systematically, I think he was pretty good. All that being said, it was a good Game 1 for him.”
Said Burakovsky: “In the beginning, I was focusing more on being in the right spot than handling the puck too much. Obviously, I got more comfortable when I do more and more with the puck. I think, overall, I had a pretty good game. I was skating well. My legs felt really good, so that was a good sign.”
The Capitals haven’t given up a power-play goal in six games. It’s no coincidence that they’ve averaged fewer than two penalties per game in that stretch. That’s a significant improvement for a team that was among the most penalized less than a month ago.
“Best penalty kill in the world right there – 0-for-0,” Trotz said. “I think we’re skating better, and part of that discipline is that we’re skating better. We’re forechecking better. We’re not getting outside of ourselves. We understand that they’re going to call the slashing and the hooking and all that, so we’re checking with our feet a lot better. To me, that’s where the discipline comes in; it’s not necessarily the number.”
Here’s what the Capitals’ lineup is expected to look like at the New York Islanders on Monday night:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Alex Chiasson
Andre Burakovsky-Lars Eller-Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Devante Smith-Pelly
Scratched: T.J. Oshie (“upper body”)
Brooks Orpik-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos-Madison Bowey
Scratched: Taylor Chorney
Braden Holtby (starter)
More on the Capitals: