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Johansson ready for bigger role with Caps

Wednesday, 09.21.2011 / 7:29 PM / NHL Insider

By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Johansson ready for bigger role with Caps
Marcus Johansson made tremendous strides for the Washington Capitals in the second half of last season and is expected to carry on a larger role in 2011-12.
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Teams with aspirations of winning the Stanley Cup don't often deploy a 20-year-old with no experience playing hockey in North America in a prominent role, but Marcus Johansson earned a spot on opening-night roster for the Washington Capitals last season and ended up being one of the team's top forwards by the end of the campaign.

His final numbers -- 13 goals and 27 points in 69 games -- undermine the positive strides he made in the second half of the season and how integral he became to a team that lost its offensive mojo.

The Capitals are hoping that Marcus Johansson can pick up where he left off at the end of last season. (Photo: Graig Abel /Getty Images)
The question is: What should we expect for an encore?

"Your hope is that his development went from here to here to here [making the outline of a set of stairs] and now that it continues to higher level," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "If it rises to higher levels -- we thought he was pretty good at the end of the year. For a guy that hadn't played that many games, he got stronger as the year went on. I don't think it is unfair to expect more of the same as it was at the end of the year and beyond than he was at the beginning of the year."

The swift-skating Swede is most likely going to center one of Washington's top two lines, which means playing alongside a sublimely-gifted Russian named Alex. He has spent the first few days of training camp centering the top line with Alex Ovechkin to his left, but the most likely landing spot for his name on the dry erase board in the Capitals' dressing room during the season will likely be on the second line with Alexander Semin to his right.

An opportunity to play a full season surrounded by such talented players -- and other possible wings like Mike Knuble, Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich are pretty talented as well -- could give Johansson an opportunity to take a quantum leap forward.

"I think we have a really good team this year and I know wherever I play I'm going to play with good players," Johansson said. "I'm just excited to get started. It has been a while so you want to get out there and play again."

If Johansson can be a consistent compliment to countryman Nicklas Backstrom, it would give the team two legitimate centers -- something the organization has been searching for with little success since Sergei Fedorov left after the 2008-09 season.

There are other promising prospects in the pipeline. Evgeny Kuznetsov may be so talented that someday soon Johansson fits as Washington's No. 3 center behind the electrifying Russian -- but he decided to stay in the KHL for another season so that day will not be in the immediate future.

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Laich could occupy one of those top two center spots opposite Backstrom as well, but that is probably more of a Plan B at his point if Johansson isn’t ready for the increased responsibility on a full-time basis.

"I think so," Backstrom said when asked of Johansson's ability to log top-six minutes. "He's a smart guy out there. He can do that. As you can see from last year, he's so smart and so fast -- I think he can be a pretty good all-around center.

"You could see him grow up a lot [last year]. When he first got here, he was kind of like me. He was a little shy, and he wasn't sure about all the stuff that was going on around here. It was a lot of new things. When he got all of that, he really stepped it up really good. I think he's even going to develop more this season and that what we want."

Having two top centers is not something that Washington has struggled with just since Backstrom arrived from Sweden four years ago. Johansson provided a glimpse of where his career could be headed in the second half of last season.

He had 10 goals and 20 points in the final 40 games of the season, then followed that up with two goals and six points in nine postseason contests. That's a 55-point pace based on his postseason production, and the Capitals have only had two centers reach 55 points in the same season once since the mid 1990s.

For Johansson to reach that level of production, he's going to need some of his high-scoring teammates to rebound. He's also going to need to stay healthy and continue to make strides with turning his elite speed into more converted scoring chances.

"You can never can be happy or satisfied with everything because you always want to do better," Johansson said. "I got off to a slow start, but around Christmas sometime I got going and found my own game again. I knew how to work my own game on the smaller ice and I think that's when I really started playing the way I usually play. After that it was pretty good.

"I think you have to find your way to be as prepared as you can for the year. It is a little different because it is a longer season and all that and more games. I think I changed my workout a little bit this year, but not too much. We'll see how that goes, and next year we'll have to go from there and how to prepare, but so far I feel really good."
Quote of the Day

I came into a team that had 65 points, that was at the bottom of the basement, a team that everybody wrote off as never going to be good. My goal is to go from the very bottom to the very top.

— Forward Brandon Dubinsky on signing a six-year contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets