The road to the NHL has been a long one for Lucas Johansen. Nearly five years after going 28th overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, the 24-year-old made his long-awaited debut as the Washington Capitals closed out 2021 with a tilt against the Detroit Red Wings.
After five seasons developing with the AHL’s Hershey Bears, Johansen earned the call-up to Washington’s taxi squad with the Capitals and the NHL fighting COVID-19. And, with three of the Capitals’ top-6 blueliners on protocol, he got the chance to play in his first career game. Johansen became the eighth rookie to take his solo lap and make his NHL debut for the Capitals but admitted he tried not to think about it too much while preparing for Detroit.
“It was pretty cool. Every kid playing hockey growing up you wanna play in the NHL,” Johansen said of his debut. “I tried to just focus in and not really look around and take it in. But definitely now that it’s over, I can in retrospect really enjoy tonight. And obviously, it was a great win.”
Johansen made the most of his first career game, not only skating 12:18 minutes and moving the puck efficiently but also making a brilliant stretch pass up to Evgeny Kuznetsov for his first NHL point. Washington ended up with a 3-1 victory on New Year’s Eve.
“Yeah. I mean it wasn’t a great pass to be honest but Kuznetsov’s obviously pretty skilled so you put it near him he’s gonna make something happen. Next time I’ll try to hit him on the tape,” Johansen laughed.
“[I] felt pretty good the whole game. To be honest, just sitting around is probably the worst part. I was pretty anxious and excited, but once the game started we’ve all done it a thousand times,” he added. “It was just a matter of getting in there getting physical and getting into the game and trying to contribute as best I could.”
It was difficult for Johansen to get family down to Little Caesar’s Arena for the game amid COVID-19, but his family was indeed watching. And, perhaps the most thrilled: Johansen’s older brother and Nashville Predators center, Ryan, who had been in his brother’s neighborhood when Nashville visited D.C. on Wednesday.
In a heartfelt Instagram tribute, Ryan congratulated Lucas on his accomplishment, calling the occasion “one of the most special days of my life.”
“It’ll be tough to explain how proud I am of my little bro right now, but here goes nothing,” Ryan wrote on Instagram. “I’m sitting on my couch right now in Nashville waiting for my little brother to play in his first career NHL game tonight! This is feeling already like one of the most special days of my life… the work ethic and passion he’s put into this game throughout his life is inspiring, and I mean that!
“This kid inspires me all the time… through all the adversity in recent years, he has never complained once about anything! Never made one excuse ever!! He has tremendous natural leadership that even his older brother respects a ton! I’ve been feeling pretty emotional today knowing that my little bro, the nicest, kindest, sweetest kid you’ll ever meet, is about to take the next step in his own journey while doing it the hardest, humblest, most sincere way he could! LJ I love you kid… go have fun out there and enjoy it.”
In 22 games with Hershey this season, Johansen dished three goals and seven points. He is a strong skater and excellent puck-mover who can make smart plays and take good care of the puck. He’s also fast and able to make an impact and battle hard in all three zones.