When the Washington Capitals brought back Marcus Johansson at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, they knew they were getting a different player than they had on the roster five years ago.
The Swede has evolved his game since last lacing ’em up in D.C., going from a player still looking for his identity to a versatile, defensive forward who can play center or wing and take good care of the puck.
“You grow and you learn every year. And every new experience you have, I feel like I’m a better hockey player, I feel like I’ve taken steps in the right direction,” Johansson said when he arrived in D.C.
And so far, the Capitals have liked what they’ve seen and have gotten exactly what they’ve wanted from the veteran.
“I think he’s playing well,” head coach Peter Laviolette. “We wanted him as a player with a 200-foot game.”
Through 12 games with the Capitals so far, Johansson has dished two goals and one assist, along with 15 hits and five blocks. Since he joined the club, the 31-year-old has been one of Washington’s top two-way forwards.
Since March 21, Johansson leads the Capitals in shots-for percentage (57.31) and scoring chances for percentage (55.83). On the flip side, he has the lowest shots-against percentage (42.69) and scoring chances against percentage (44.17 percent). No. 90 also has the second-lowest high-danger chances against percentage among all forwards, behind only Nic Dowd (44.17). His expected goals-against (7.21) is also the lowest among all Capitals skaters with at least 10GP over that span.
“We really want a good steady 200-foot game that goes both ways, and he’s provided that,” Laviolette said.
On the offensive side of the game, Johansson has also been getting some results of late. He has points in back-to-back games and two goals in his last six outings overall. Johansson said that he has gotten more comfortable and has been able to find his speed and game as he continues to get back in the rhythm with the team’s systems.
“I mean it always helps [to score]. I feel like definitely the last few games I’ve found myself a little bit more,” Johansson said after the Capitals‘ 3-2 win over Colorado, where he netted the game-winning goal. “More comfortable with the puck and making plays, and I think that comes with more speed and more creativity as well. It always helps when you get a couple, but as long as you win, it’s fine.”
In the end, though, Laviolette said the emphasis isn’t on Johansson’s individual scoring stats, but on his on-ice play. And while that may not show up on the scoresheet, it’s made a major difference for Washington.
“It’s not like when we traded for him he had 50 points and now we’re waiting for production,” Laviolette noted. “I’m not sitting here scratching my head saying why isn’t this happening… I think that weighs on a player sometimes when they get that confidence from the production part of the game sometimes. But we think he’s playing a good 200-foot game.”