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Lucas Johansen could vie for job with Capitals next season

Defenseman, brother of Predators center Ryan Johansen, sees opening with changes expected in Washington

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- When the Vegas Golden Knights claimed defenseman Nate Schmidt from the Washington Capitals in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft on June 21, Lucas Johansen immediately understood what it meant to the Capitals and to him.

The loss of Schmidt and expectation that defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzner will leave as unrestricted free agents will create openings for at least two defensemen in Washington. Johansen, the Capitals' first-round pick (No. 28) in the 2016 NHL Draft, views it as a chance for him to possibly compete for a job in training camp.

"For us young guys, it's an awesome opportunity for us," Johansen said after the first day of on-ice sessions at Capitals development camp on Tuesday. "That's about the only positive out of it is the young guys get a chance."

Being realistic, Johansen, the younger brother of Nashville Predators center Ryan Johansen, probably isn't ready to play in the NHL. The 19-year-old Vancouver native is coming off a solid season with Kelowna in the Western Hockey League, where he had 41 points (six goals, 35 assists) in 68 regular-season games. But he probably needs to get some pro experience with Hershey of the American Hockey League first.

Although Johansen spent almost three weeks practicing with Hershey during the AHL playoffs after his junior season, he didn't get in any games and he's behind prospects such as Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos and Tyler Lewington on the Capitals' defensive depth chart.

But that's not stopping him from thinking big.

"I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't want to play here," Johansen said. "But I know I have a lot of things to improve on and [for] the jump to the NHL you have to be strong, you have to be fast. But I'm looking forward to committing myself to getting better and I'm going to come to camp and do the best I can to make this team and whatever happens from there, I'll be happy."

Hershey coach Troy Mann, who is running the on-ice sessions during development camp, described Johansen as, "very cerebral, great puck mover." Mann believes the Johansen and Connor Hobbs, a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 143), will benefit from one or more of the other young defensemen moving up to the Capitals, which will open up bigger roles for them with Hershey.

"We've got a lot of young D," Mann said. "That's probably the strength of the organization now in terms of prospects and Lucas will get his opportunity and, hopefully, he makes the most of it as well in Hershey."

Following his first NHL training camp with the Capitals last fall, Johansen knew he needed to get bigger and stronger and work on his defensive play. He said he's put on about 10 pounds, raising his weight to 188 since the season ended, and believes his defense improved with Kelowna.

"Offensively, I didn't get the numbers that I would have wanted to, but I think at times I was more focused on the defensive play and being efficient and playing against the top players in that league," Johansen said. "Knowing how good the forwards are in this league, it's something that I really wanted to focus on."

From being around his brother, Johansen has a good idea of the training habits needed to play in the NHL. He also got a taste of what the Stanley Cup Playoffs are like when he was in Nashville for Game 6 of the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks.

Ryan was unable to play after needing surgery on his left thigh following Game 4 of that series, but Lucas experienced the excitement at Bridgestone Arena up close when the Predators clinched their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final with a 6-3 victory.

"I had goosebumps when I first walked in the arena and they were coming on the ice and I knew just how bad I wanted to play in this league," Lucas said. "That's definitely exciting to see. Ryan wasn't out there at the time, but I would have been pretty proud if he was out there and I was proud of him this whole season."

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