The Washington Capitals had a lot of work to do to open 2022 NHL Free Agency, and they by no means stood by as the action unfolded.
Amid injury questions and a desire to make it past the first round for the first time since winning it all in 2018, Washington welcomed an influx of new faces over the first 48 hours of free agency, including Darcy Kuemper, Dylan Strome and more, while also saying goodbye to a couple of pending free agents.
Though the team brought in a number of new faces and also mentioned the desire to inject youth into the lineup, general manager Brian MacLellan made an interesting move that raised some eyebrows. The Capitals re-signed Marcus Johansson to a one-year, $1.1 million contract.
Johansson was just one of two UFAs that the Capitals held onto, the other being Matt Irwin. But, given the influx of forward options, and MacLellan having cited that the team wants to inject more youth into the lineup and give prospects a chance to help fill in up front, why did he bring No. 90 back on board?
“He’s a versatile player,” MacLellan pointed out. “I thought he played well for us, I thought he was good defensively. Brought a little offense.”
The 31-year-old center, who started his career in D.C. back in 2009, made his return to the District following a trade from the Seattle Kraken at the deadline. After picking up 23 points in 51 games with Seattle, Johnasson dished three goals and three assists in 18 regular-season games with Washington. He then had a goal and assist in the first round against the Florida Panthers.
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The defensive-minded forward mainly spent time playing on the second-line wing and also took some draws, while also getting time on the second power-play unit. Not only that, but his play was also strong on the other side of the puck. 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 Alex Ovechkin and Anthony Mantha. He also had the least number of shots against among all forwards (117). Overall, he impressed head coach Peter Laviolette with his steady 200-foot game. “JoJo” is well-liked in the room and showed that he can slot in anywhere in the lineup.
While his “jack of all trades” playing style is something that helped him earn an extension, question marks surrounding the future of some guys on the shelf led to MacLellan holding onto the Swede.
“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.”
Looking at where he could fit in, Johansson could potentially be a good fit to take over for Hagelin on the line with Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway.
In the end, the Capitals wanted to hold on to Johansson in order to have an experienced, proven two-way option upfront with so many injuries to start the year. And in the end, it may pay of, especially if Hagelin’s check-up in August goes wrong or if Backstrom is unable to make a return.