Just nine games into his NHL career, Marcus Johansson is going through on the job training. Johansson has just one point through nine NHL games and is a -3 thus far. But the last two games Johansson has played against the Thrashers and Sabres have been by far his best of the season. Having watched each of his first nine games in the NHL, Johansson clearly is still becoming acclimated with the speed of the game and the size of NHL defenders. He has looked timid, nervous, and uncomfortable on the ice for the most part. Johansson has opened up the last two games, showing off his skating ability and hands that have been the catalyst for the comparison to Nick Backstrom.
Bruce Boudreau rewarded Johansson with a game on the top line last night against the Buffalo Sabres. Suffice to say hindsight is always 20/20, I had trouble getting on board with this decision. This isn’t a knock against Johansson in anyway. But my feeling is that when a young centerman with just nine games under is belt is teamed up with a player of Ovechkin’s caliber, it can cause the player to be overly occupied with trying to get the puck to Ovechkin. Johansson is still developing his patience with the puck. The last thing he needs is the additional obligation of getting the puck to Ovechkin whenever he has the chance. In multiple occasions against the Sabres it looked as though Johansson rushed his decisions to get the puck to Ovechkin when other options would have been better suited. Again, this is part of the growing process, but I believe Johansson is better served on the second line with Laich and combination of Semin and Knuble.
Would Johansson be better served to have an apprenticeship in the AHL?
The Mathieu Perreault bandwagon would certain answer this question with a resounding yes. I would argue that despite the lack of NHL experience Johansson has, the team is still winning. The Capitals are getting scoring from all four of their lines. The Capitals’ fourth line of Chimera, Bradley, and Steckel was without question the best line last night against Buffalo. The point is, Johansson’s lack of NHL experience isn’t becoming a road block for the Caps. They are first in the Eastern Conference at 14-4-1, and are showing no signs of slowing down.
The Capitals should keep Johansson with the team. Recall the slow start Nicklas Backstrom had in his first year in the NHL. It wasn’t until an overtime game winning goal on Thanksgiving day against the Flyers that Backstrom really took flight as an NHL center. All signs point to Johansson having the same fortune. Will he be the caliber of player as Backstrom? Let’s not set the bar that high. But Johansson is beginning to show signs that he can be a fantastic center for the Captials for many years to come.
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About the Author: Jeremy is a life time hockey fan currently living in Washington DC. Jeremy also runs a Capitals blog called The Nation's Capitals where he frequently posts blogs about the state of the Caps. His other interests include music and politics. Jeremy has a degree in Political Science. Being from DC, politics kind of comes with the territory.