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Silber: Cutting Johansen Tough Call, But Right One For Him & Capitals



Washington Capitals Lucas Johansen

ARLINGTON, V.A. — Just 24 hours before final rosters were due, Lucas Johansen was finally closing in on his NHL dream as the last fringe defenseman up with the Washington Capitals. However, he was pulled into Peter Laviolette’s office on Sunday morning and given the tough news: he didn’t make the cut.

Johansen, along with Henrik Borgstrom, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Brett Leason, went on waivers after practice. If he clears, he will head to the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

After years of evolving and overcoming adversity with the Hershey Bears and Capitals organization, this training camp was the closest the 2016 first-rounder had come to making it to the Show. While it’s a tough pill to swallow at the moment, this was the right call for him and Washington heading into 2022-23.

Johansen had a strong preseason, getting four games and ranking third among defensemen in Corsi-for (58.18 percent) while being on the ice for just one goal against. He also moved the puck well up ice, showed impressive skating and made some crafty plays. The 6-2, 176-pound blueliner also had an assist.

However, there wasn’t room to dress the 24-year-old blueliner. Erik Gustafsson won the vacancy on the third pairing alongside Trevor van Riemsdyk, as he showcased his puck-moving ability at even strength and on the power play.

READ MORE ON WHN: Washington Capitals Make Final Cuts, Place 4 On Waivers

Taking that into account, there was only an opening as an extra for either Johansen or Matt Irwin. And at the day, it went to Irwin — and for good reason.

Johansen is still young, and being a healthy scratch wouldn’t be good for his development. He deserves ice time, and his skill can benefit Hershey in a bigger way. As an extra, it’s hard to replicate game action in practice. For a young player like Johansen, it would be a more difficult adjustment, and it wouldn’t give him the reps he needs to succeed in a league like the NHL. Irwin, 34, has become accustomed to being an extra and not playing for long stretches. He knows his role on the team and doesn’t mind it, and when called upon, he knows how to adapt due to plenty of experience as a 7D.

Plus, carrying eight defensemen would only leave the team with 13 forwards, which could pose issues if there’s an injury or twoupfront. Plus, Aliaksei Protas and Joe Snively both had strong camps and earned their spots, and according to Laviolette, the decision to run 14-7-2 was “personnel” based.

In the end, it’s difficult for Johansen to come so close to the NHL only to miss out at the last minute. However, it’s a smart move that will allow him more ice time, responsibility and growth, and more than likely, he’ll be back up with the big club at some point this season. It is a matter of if, not when.