From Alzner to Wideman, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2010-11 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2011-12. Next up, Marcus Johansson.
#90 / Forward / Washington Capitals
Oct 6, 1990
$900,000 cap hit in 2011-12; RFA summer 2013
Key Stat: No Caps skater was on the ice for more goals against in the playoffs than Marcus Johansson (13, tied with Dennis Wideman).
The Good: Johansson finished the regular season tied for third (with Dennis Wideman) in team scoring, trailing only Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. His 14-32-46 stat line set career highs in goals, assists, and points, to which he added career highs in hits (61), blocks (28), power play assists (7), and game winning goals (3). While his career is only two seasons old, showing improvement is always a good thing and setting career highs nearly across the board should be recognized. And regardless of how long he's been in the league, being 5th on the team in on-ice points per 60 (ahead of the team's captain, among others) is impressive. It appears as though Johansson's statistical improvement was recognized and rewarded by the coaching staff as he played over two minutes more per game during the regular season than he did last season. Then, in the playoffs, Johansson saw almost a three minute boost in ice time per game over his regular season.
As noted above, only two forwards had more power play ice time than Johansson during the regular season (though it would have been three had Nicklas Backstrom stayed healthy). Just like the ice time, among forwards Johansson had the third most goals for on-ice per 60 on the power play, though in the playoffs that rank fell to fifth. During the regular season his even strength goals for per 60 was fourth among forwards, and all three players with better goals for per 60 faced easier competition. However, like the power play production, his even strength production also trailed off in the playoffs (seventh among forwards). Johansson also drew penalties at a rate four times higher than he took them, which is nice. At the end of the day Johansson produced more than he did last year, and more than almost any other teammate did this year. Given Backstrom's prolonged absence, and the struggles to even make the playoffs, Johansson stepping up to be among the offensive leaders on the team has to be considered a good thing.
In addition to the numbers, it's simply a joy to watch Johansson turn on the jets and fly through the neutral zone. He's one of the most effective players on the team at getting the puck through the neutral zone and gaining the offensive zone. His speed backs off defenders regularly. On a team that is frequently described as "not a fast team" by opposing coaches and commentators, it's crucial to have players like Johansson that can make teams back up and respect some breakaway speed. It opens up space for everyone else to try to get through the increasingly-clogged NHL neutral zone.
The Bad: Contrary to the nice production numbers, Johansson's possession numbers were dreadful all year (and that's with the benefit of relatively favorable zone starts). If you believe that the underlying possession numbers can tell you a lot (and you should), then seeing Johnasson so far under water all year is troubling. Only one player on the team (Mike Knuble) had worse Corsi on ice than Johansson this season, and Knuble faced tougher competition. Relative to teammates Johansson doesn't look much better, finishing fourth-worst (above Knuble, Jeff Schultz, and Karl Alzner; only Schultz faced easier competition). In the playoffs his Corsi on-ice was similarly bad, sixth-worst on the team at -21.96 per 60 minutes (he was sixth worst relative to teammates, as well). Basically, when Johansson was on the ice the Caps were most likely playing defense.
Johansson's competition numbers were middle of the pack so there isn't much of an excuse there. If you are more interested in a results-based approach, Johansson had the fourth-worst goals against per 60 in the regular season. That number was fifth in the playoffs, but only Jeff Halpern was worse among forwards. It should be noted that Johansson had the second-worst on-ice save percentage among forwards in the playoffs (only better than Halpern's) and fourth-worst among forwards in the regular season. He wasn't getting a ton of help from the goalies, but when you spend all game pinned in your own end it's tough to point fingers at the net.
The numbers above tell you what you probably saw all year long, but especially in the playoffs. Johansson was constantly being pushed off the puck, refused to shoot the puck (he had 12 fewer shots in 11 more games this season), had more than his fair share of fly-bys, and routinely made foolish passes that killed offensive possession (raise your hand if you didn't think his ill-advised pass on the power play in Game 7 against Boston wasn't going to end up in the net). While his absolute production was nice, as was his rank among his teammates, much of that has to do with how many of his teammates had disappointing seasons and Backstrom's injury. Backstrom's injury had ripple effects throughout the lineup, and completely changed the look of the Caps. Possibly no player was impacted by the injury more than Johansson, as he was forced into a role for which he was not and is not ready. When Johansson is the leading scoring center on a team, that's bad news. He simply was not capable of taking top line center duties, and should never have been expected to be able to handle those. While his stat rankings look a tad bit better because of Backstrom's absence, it's likely that playing the tougher competition was a contributing factor to his woeful possession numbers. Perhaps he'd have been more effective had he been able to play easier minutes with Backstrom in the lineup for 82 games.
Regardless of the mitigating factors, there was a lot not to like about Johansson's sophomore season. He's still young and he should fill out, but this team has already seen enough players that were made for the regular season and not the playoffs. If he can't find a way to carry his regular season play into the playoffs (aside from the brutal possession numbers) then it's a problem.
The Vote: Rate Johansson below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: Does Johansson still have the potential to be the long-sought-after 2C of the future for the Washington Capitals? If so, what does he have to improve to get there, and what would that line have to look like? If not, where does he fit in on this team in the future? Or should his future be in another jersey? What will it take for him to earn a "10" in 2012-13?