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Where Is Best Place For Johansson To Draw In For Capitals In 2022-23?

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Capitals forward Marcus Johansson

The Washington Capitals made quite a few changes this offseason, bringing in a number of new forwards, revamping their goaltending and bolstering the blue line. However, they kept some names on board, too, including Marcus Johansson.

Johansson, who began his career as a first-round Capitals draft pick in 2009, left the team via trade in 2017. After five years, he came back to D.C. at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline in exchange for Daniel Sprong. The 31-year-old was brought in primarily as a defensive forward and met the expectations laid out for him.

“We really want a good steady 200-foot game that goes both ways, and he’s provided that,” Laviolette said of No. 90.

As he returns on a one-year, $1.1 million deal, there are some questions about where he’ll slot in, especially with an influx of forwards. Dylan Strome and Connor Brown have joined the mix, along with Henrik Borgstrom as an extra option. All the while, Connor McMichael is looking to expand his role on the forward lines as well. Plus, in December, Tom Wilson will rejoin the mix, and Nicklas Backstrom also intends to play in 2022-23. Carl Hagelin’s status remains up in the air, but there will be more clarity on his future in the coming weeks as he goes for another evaluation.

Still, despite the surplus up front, Washington sees Johansson as a vital piece of the puzzle.

“We moved him around,” MacLellan continued. “Played left wing, played right wing, top-6, bottom-6. With the uncertainty [surrounding] Carl Hagelin, we thought we needed one more veteran guy that we could use. He’s a versatile guy, everybody is familiar with him. The coaches liked him, they liked what he did last year, so we decided to bring him back.”

READ MORE ON WHN: Why Washington Capitals Brought Back Marcus Johansson

Looking at the lineup right now, it appears the Capitals’ top-6 is pretty much set. Brown will likely get a chance to show what he can do on that top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, and from the looks of it, Dylan Strome will lead the second line alongside Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie.

While Johansson could compete for a top-6 role on the wing — and also got to play a lot of time on 2LW to close out last season — the bottom-6 may be the best fit for him.

The Swede is a versatile player that shots left and can play center or either wing. He will likely continue to play the winger role given heavy competition down the middle, especially between Connor McMichael and Lars Eller.

Ultimately, looking at the options, there’s one area he will fit best: the left side, in the Hagelin spot, alongside Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway.

The fourth line is a powerhouse and one of the best in the league at what it does. It is aggressive on the forecheck, physical and reliable in the defensive zone, and it can win puck battles and make a major impact in the neutral zone.

RELATED: Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway Reflect On Friendship, Journey With Washington Capitals

That is exactly where Johansson does his best work: as a two-way forward with an emphasis on defense first. He takes good care of the puck and has great possession metrics.

After coming over from the Kraken at the deadline on March 21, Johansson led all forwards with at least 15GP in Corsi-for percentage (53.56) at 5-on-5 and ranked third at all strengths (57.23), trailing only Ovechkin and Mantha. He also had the least number of shots against among all forwards (117).

Here’s what the forward lines could look like with Johansson in that spot:

Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Connor Brown

Anthony Mantha-Dylan Strome-T.J. Oshie

Connor McMichael-Lars Eller-Conor Sheary

Marcus Johansson-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway

However, there is another option. If Mantha can’t succeed in a top-6 role, he could shift, and Eller or Conor Sheary — two players who have meshed well with Dowd and Hathaway in the past — could slot in at 4LW. That would leave Johansson back on the top-6 and put McMichael at 3C while shifting Mantha to 3LW.

In the end, though, starting Johansson in a new role on the bottom-6 may be the right call, especially given his two-way ability and focus on defense over top-6 production.

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