ARLINGTON, Va. -- With all the excitement surrounding the Capitals young defensemen and prospects such as Jonas Siegenthaler, Christian Djoos, Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary, it can be easy to forget about Lucas Johansen. His goal for training camp this year is to change that.
“They've always got guys coming in,” Johansen told NBC Sports Washington. “I'm just going to go in there, compete as hard as I can, like I never have before. I'm looking forward to the challenge. A lot of good young talent here to keep the pace up. But yeah, I'm looking to make a statement this year and just compete as hard as I can.”
Johansen, Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2016, has yet to make his NHL debut and is coming off of what was a difficult season.
Whatever chances Johansen had of getting a look for a possible call-up last season were dashed when an upper-body injury limited him to just 45 games. When he finally did return later in the season, it was clear the injury had taken its toll which led to a reduced role in Hershey.
“I'd never been injured that long in the middle of a season,” Johansen said. “I've never taken that much time off of exercise.”
“Once I got back in, we were pushing so hard for a playoff spot there and I kind of fell into the role of a five, six spot there,” he added. “Once I realized this is what we've got to do to win and I bought into that, but obviously I don't plan on being a five, six guy in the AHL, I want to make my way up and play in the NHL.”
Now with Alexeyev and Fehervary both expected to play in Hershey this season, Johansen is in danger of getting passed on the organization depth chart leading to questions about his future with the Caps.
That makes the 2019 training camp a critical one for Johansen who called it “my biggest one yet, for sure.”
So what does he need to show?
For a long time, the knock on Johansen was his size, but he does not believe that is still an issue. He said his weight is up to between 190 and 195, “closer to 195 right now.” That would put him well within the range of a normal NHL player making weight no longer a concern.
Johansen also stated that his play in the defensive zone was an issue and was an area of focus for him while training over the summer.
“If I can clean up my D-zone and be hard in front of the net and hard on guys, that's literally what I practiced all summer,” he said. “I had a really specific plan and that's why I didn't say, oh I just tried to gain weight this summer. I really had a specific plan as to how I can make the NHL this year and I talked to a lot of people about that. I believe for me to take the next step it's just a matter of playing really good defense.”
Working on his defensive play was a good move considering that improving the team defensively was a clear focus for general manager Brian MacLellan over the offseason.
Now, Johansen will have to show the team that he is ready to compete for the NHL, something he has no shortage of confidence that he can do.
“When I play with assertiveness and intensity, I'm for sure confident I could play in the NHL right now,” he said, “So I've just got to consistently show them every day and gain their trust day by day. I'm ready to go. If camp started today, I'd be ready. I'm excited.”
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