It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Third line forward

Marcus Johansson vs. Joonas Donskoi

2018-19 stats

Marcus Johansson (28 years old): 58 games played with the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins, 13 goals, 17 assists, 30 points, 15:55 TOI

Playoffs: 21 games played with the Boston Bruins, 4 goals, 7 assists, 11 points, 13:51 TOI

Joonas Donskoi (27 years old): 80 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points, 13:25 TOI

Playoffs: 12 games played for the San  Jose Sharks, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 12:26 TOI

Hockey-Graphs contract projections

Marcus Johansson: 4 years, $4,661,000

Joonas Donskoi: 3 years, $2,847,521 cap hit

The case for Marcus Johansson

You guys watching the playoffs right now? Because Johansson has been fantastic with the Bruins and is a big reason they sit one win away from the Stanley Cup.

 

The stats with New Jersey are not great, but the last four seasons he was in Washington, he recorded over 40 points. There is an obvious fit there. In 2016-17, he tallied 58 with 24 goals and 34 assists. He has also rebounded tremendously from his time with the Devils, so it is definitely fair to think he can produce at a high level if he returns to Washington.

The Caps at times asked too much of Johansson, but that is not the Washington would be asking him to play this time. He would be a third-line player, maybe second line if the team is looking for a speed line with Jakub Vrana on the other wing. It would be similar to the role Boston has for him now in which he is thriving.

Donskoi has good skill, but that has earned him career-highs of 14 goals and 37 points, both of which he scored last season so the Caps could end up paying a bit more than they should to obtain him.

Concerned about Johansson’s durability? Well Donskoi is no ironman. In his four NHL seasons, he only managed 80 games once. In two seasons he played in fewer than 70 games so you cannot simply say Donskoi is a more durable option.

Johansson has shown this postseason that he has plenty more to give a team if given the right role and the right fit. He would have both in Washington.

The case for Joonas Donskoi

Yes, Johansson has had a strong postseason and every knows it, including other NHL GMs. His strong play has been on full display for everyone to see. That’s bad news for a cash-strapped Washington team that has very little cap room to work with and cannot afford to get into a bidding war with anyone. That $4.661 million he is projected to make? That projection is from May, before the Stanley Cup Final, and even then, it seemed lower than I would have expected. It won’t take much for Johansson’s price tag to go higher than what Washington can afford to match.

Donskoi will be a much cheaper option. His stats don’t match what Johansson did in Washington, but there is no guarantee Johansson steps back into the Caps lineup and begins producing 40 to 50 points again. If you can expect the same level of production from both players, then you should take the cheaper option.

Donskoi made the offense better in San Jose in whatever role he was asked to play, and he is a much more realistic target for the Caps over the soon to be too expensive Johansson.

Who’s your pick? Vote here:

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