Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Trust Marcus Johansson?

Is 90 the answer this season to the second line?
As the buzz surrounding free agency slowly winds down, the Washington Capitals seem done acquiring new players via the open market.  The Caps have kept Brooks Laich, traded for Troy Brouwer, and signed defenseman Roman Hamrlik, center Jeff Halpern, winger Joel Ward, and goalie Tomas Vokoun in one of the biggest offseason spending sprees in recent memory.  George McPhee and his staff have added grit on the wings, a veteran defenseman, and an elite goalie to an already good team while, for the most part, keeping the core intact (Karl Alzner has not been re-signed at this time).
But despite all of these positive additions, there is one thing that the Capitals have not added, and that is a proven second line center. Washington has been missing a true #2 pivot since Sergei Fedorov jetted to the KHL in 2009, and many people, including me, felt as though locking up a player like this should be a priority for McPhee.  Alas, however, with all of the prime centers off the market, including last season's rental, the legendary Jason Arnott, the chances DC acquires this player by opening night is not very high.
As a result, it looks at this point as though young Marcus Johansson will be the secondary pivot come opening night.  At first glance, this may seem to many as a disaster waiting to happen.  Johansson is pretty small at only 5-11, 189, and he only has 78 games of NHL experience under his belt.  His 15 goals and 21 assists in those 78 games do not not look that impressive.  For a team with championship goals, entrusting such an important role to such a young player may seem like alot.
Well, it is.  There is no doubt that MoJo is a key to the Capitals' success this year, but unlike some others, I think he can handle it.  
For one, Johansson's second half, particularly his last month, was miles ahead of his first half in terms of consistency and production.  From October to February, Johansson scored six goals and recorded eight assists, and from March until the beginning of May, basically two months, the young Swede scored eight goals and recorded 13 assists...in half as many games.  Some may say that Jason Arnott opened up ice for him, I don't buy that, considering he was still able to put up numbers when Arnott was recovering from his knee surgery.  Johansson only got better as the year went along, and he is going to continue to get better.
Second, Johansson will likely be skating with at least one bruising winger this year pretty much the entire campaign.  Both Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer on board and either of the two (or maybe both) on his wings, few tough guys will take liberties with MoJo without fear of retaliation.  Their physical play along the boards and in corners will also free up more loose pucks for him to work with and open up ice for him to create in.  More ice = more offense, which equals a valuable second center.
Finally, Johansson is a very good all-around player, not just an offensive catalyst, which profiles an excellent second center.  He saw significant time on the penalty kill last year as the season reached it's latter stages, and he excelled in that role. Johansson also seems to be unafraid to block shots, which is equally paramount in Bruce Boudreau's new system, and he will get better at this as well as he gets older.  Oh, and there's the speed.  Johansson has a ton of it, and it will only increase his ability to develop into a two-way stud, as #2 centers should be.

Bottom line: Marcus Johansson will be 21 when the season opens.  He has nowhere to go but up.  Washington may "need" a second line center, but he can do it this year.

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