ARLINGTON, V.A. — On the morning of the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, Nicklas Backstrom’s phone lit up. It was a text from his former Washington Capitals teammate and countrymate, Marcus Johansson.
“He said, ‘I’m back, but it’s not official,'” Backstrom said with a laugh. “It’s now official.”
A few hours ago, Washington traded for their 2009 first-round pick and former forward in exchange for Daniel Sprong and a couple of draft picks. It’s been almost five years since Johansson last sported a Capitals sweater, and his teammates are excited to reunite with the 31-year-old, especially given his growth over time.
“It’s great. Since he left, I think he’s developed a lot as a player,” Backstrom said. “I talk to him often. Good friend of mine, and it will be fun to see him back here. I think it’s good for us as a team and fun for him to be back here.”
Johansson played seven years in D.C., putting up a couple of 20-plus goal campaigns and also posting four consecutive 40-plus point seasons. In the final year of his deal, “JoJo” picked up a career-high 58 points. In 501 total games for the Capitals, he dished 102 goals and 188 helpers through 501 games.
The Swede left Washington after the 2016-17 season and has since played for the New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild and Kraken. He signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Seattle over the offseason (Seattle is retaining 50 percent of that salary), and has six goals and 17 assists through 51 games this season.
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Backstrom said that he’d heard rumblings through social media that Johansson could be on his way back to the District, and that it helps that he will be returning to his old stomping grounds to make the transition easier. When it comes to his on-ice play, he has seen Johansson elevate his game on the ice to a higher level.
“Well, obviously, I read Twitter like a lot of other people, I guess,” Backstrom noted. “So it’s been out there for a couple days, I think. But you never know it’s going to happen or not. But it did, so I’m excited. I’m excited to see him back here, and hopefully, we’ll have a good run together.
“I think he’s more responsible on the ice. He can play in every situation. He’s fast and makes plays. So he brings a lot. He’s a pretty all-around player, I would say,” Backstrom added.
Wilson agreed, saying that “JoJo” is a “really smart player” who can bring a lot to the table, which will be vital as the Capitals look to finish strong down the stretch and aim to make a deep run.
“He makes the players around him better,” Wilson said. “He makes smart plays, really good with the puck, he spends a lot of time with the puck, he was kind of a young veteran guy when I was drafted here. A lot of fond memories from those days. He’s a really nice person, a really good person and a good teammate. It’ll be fun. It’ll be exciting to have him back in the mix. Things have changed, but some guys are still here. So it’ll be fun to get the crew back together and spend some time with him.
“Even guys that didn’t play with him, when guys leave, come and go, there’s always kind of stories from the old days that you almost feel like you know him a little bit… he’s one of Nicky’s best friends, so that’s an instant plus,” Wilson added. “As far as a comfort factor, he’s going to come back and probably feel like he never left, hopefully. Hopefully, the transition is like that. He’s a great guy, so I’m expecting he’ll fit right in.”
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Johansson will wear No. 90, his original number with D.C. The Capitals said his status for Tuesday’s game is TBD, depending on when he’ll get to Washington.
Still, head coach Peter Laviolette is looking forward to what he can bring to the table. He noted that Johansson is a versatile forward who can play center or wing and can also log time on special teams.
“The fact that he’s played on the power play, he had success on the power play, is great down low, great at the net-front, brings different things to the power play as well. So to me, that is an asset and provides depth headed into a playoff run.”