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Johansson poised to play larger role with Capitals

by Katie Brown / NHL.com

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Expectations for Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson will be high this season.

On Friday, an arbitrator awarded him a one-year, $3.75 million contract. Johansson, taken by Washington with the 24th pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, scored a career-high 20 goals and 47 points last season.

"It's going to be more competitive on the team this year, with a deeper top six, and you're going to have to play well and compete hard to keep your job just like everyone else," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said Monday. "Hopefully it's a competitive environment and the whole team will benefit from it."

With center Nicklas Backstrom recovering from hip surgery, and the additions of Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie, the top-six forward group in Washington is in flux. Backstrom is expected to be ready for the season opener, but the Capitals are preparing for any possibility.

That includes inserting Johansson, who turns 25 on Oct. 6, into a larger role.

Johansson played top-six minutes and on the power play last season, and MacLellan said he envisions him in a similar role this season in addition to working on his two-way game.

"Marcus could be a potential penalty-killer," MacLellan said. "We haven't used him [there] much, but the way he skates … we want him to evolve into a better all-around two-way player, and he has the potential to be offensive and be defensive, but he's a young guy and he's improving."

Johansson was one of two Capitals to file for arbitration. Goaltender Braden Holtby signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract after his July 23 arbitration hearing.

Comparable players were easier to find in Johansson's case, and MacLellan said that made the process a bit easier than with Holtby, where finding an apples-to-apples comparison with age, experience and salary was tougher.

"We wanted to pursue a longer-term deal," MacLellan said. "There [were] differences from the get-go with the value we had on the player and in the marketplace. In our case, the negotiations kind of stalled at certain evaluation points and it didn't feel like it was moving forward. It [arbitration] was an effective tool to get deals done."

MacLellan said the Capitals aren't planning on making any roster moves right now but haven't ruled out the possibility. With limited remaining space under the NHL salary cap, if Washington wanted to add a player, it would most likely be via trade. The Capitals are about $1.5 million under the salary cap, according to war-on-ice.com.

"We're exploring a couple things, but I would say we're done for now," MacLellan said. "We could fit a cheaper player in if we chose to right now; it's just a matter of what impact it does on players that we've chosen to play right now. We could possibly add, we could not."

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