Marcus Johansson had a career year last season, but if he hopes to stay in the Caps' top six, he's going to have to fight for it.
In a conference call with media on Monday, general manager Brian MacLellan talked about the process of re-signing Johansson and where he might fit in the lineup next season.
"Marcus had a good year," MacLellan said. "He scored 20 goals for us, played a top six role, played on our number one power play. I envision he could do the same thing again."
Johansson's role, however, was already going to change.
Last season, the Caps lacked a true top-line right wing and several players were cycled in at the position. Johansson spent some time there in both the regular season and the playoffs playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
As a clear area of need, the Caps addressed the position by adding T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. It is not a position Johansson will likely be returning to in the upcoming season.
"It’s going to be more competitive on our team this year," MacLellan said. "We just have a deeper top six and you’re going to have to play well and compete hard to keep your job there.
"Marcus is like everyone else. He’s going to have play well from the start."
With the addition of two right wings and Evgeny Kuznetsov slotted in at second line center, that leaves Johansson in a competition with Andre Burakovsky for the second line left wing, the only remaining position in the top six.
The team's new-found depth on the top two lines may mean Johansson is pushed down to the third, a fact that likely helped drive Johansson's contract negotiation into arbitration.
"I think there [were] differences from the get-go in the value we had on [Johansson] and within the marketplace," MacLellan said.
But while the Caps added plenty of offensive talent in the offseason, they also lost several two-way players. Troy Brouwer, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward will not be returning to Washington next season, three forwards who contributed on the team's penalty kill. Their departure leaves an hole on the team that Johansson can fill if he evolves as a player, something MacLellan hopes to see in camp.
"We want him to evolve into a better all-around, two-way player. He has the potential to be offensive and be defensive."
While Johansson has not shown much in the way of defensive acumen over his NHL career, that is a skillset that head coach Barry Trotz clearly values as evidenced not only in his time in Nashville, but last season when players like Jay Beagle and Joel Ward saw time on the first line.
Though Johansson has some offensive skills, the Caps' depth at forward means his game will have to change in order for him to increase his role on the team again.
"He’s still 24 years old," MacLellan said. "We expect his game to evolve to become a better all-around player, to become better at everything."
According to MacLellan, the injury to Brooks Orpik's wrist has been a lingering issue and is not an injury that he picked up over the summer.
"He’s had an issue with the wrist and he’s managed it and it hasn’t really affected his play," MacLellan said. "I think whatever happened in his training or this summer, I think he’s decided I just don’t want to manage it."
Orpik underwent surgery on his wrist at the end of July. When asked if he expected Orpik to be 100 percent healthy for the start of the season, MacLellan said yes.
MacLellan also provided an update on Nicklas Backstrom who appears to be on track after hip surgery.
"He’s progressing well. I heard he started skating just recently so that’s a good sign."
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