Years of competing for a Stanley Cup and focusing on the present over the future means that the Capitals are not deep in many areas when in comes to prospect depth. One area that remains a strength, however, is left defense where Washington boasts a number of high-end prospects.
At the NHL level, Michal Kempny and Dmitry Orlov are both top-four players. Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos will both likely be full-time NHL players this season while top-end prospects Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary already seem to be pushing for the NHL with both expected to start the season in Hershey.
When talking about the team’s future on the blue line, there always seems to be one player who gets overlooked despite being a first-round draft pick in 2016: Lucas Johansen.
The 2018-19 season did not go the way Johansen would have hoped as an upper-body injury limited him to just 45 games and really seemed to stunt his progression. While young players like Siegenthaler and Tyler Lewington got the chance to make their NHL debuts, Johansen will enter the 2019-20 season still looking for his first taste of NHL hockey.
“I'd be lying if I said like I wish I didn't play in the NHL this year, but it's something that you try not to focus on too much,” Johansen told NBC Sports Washington in May. “I think if you take care of things [in the AHL] and you showcase what you can do down here, that'll lead to good opportunities so I don't try to overwhelm my mind with that.”
The knock on Johansen when he was drafted was that he was too skinny and needed to put on weight. He said he had managed to keep his weight up around 190 pounds for the entire season, which is encouraging.
But Johansen’s puck-moving skills still lag behind where you would expect them to be at this point for a puck-moving defenseman. Plus, the emergence of players like Alexeyev and Fehervary suggest Johansen could be sliding down the organizational depth chart.
“It's a never-ending, recurring cycle of new players coming in and they're always hungry. I'm no different,” Johansen said.
But three years in the organization without a sniff at the NHL plus two younger players possibly passing him on the depth chart are red flags, especially for a first-round draft pick.
The issue here is asset management.
The Caps can afford to be patient with a player like Connor Hobbs. Hobbs is a fifth-round draft pick. If he gets passed over by players like Alexeyev, that’s to be expected. Those players do not have much value to them until you develop them and build that value.
That equation is different when it comes to first-round picks. These were highly sought after players who come with high expectations. For them, teams cannot afford to be as patient. They are expected to make the NHL sooner rather than later and if you don’t think they will make it or if you don’t think there is room for them in the organization, then you have to trade him while his trade value is still high and other teams still value him as a potential prospect.
For Johansen, the 2019-20 season is critical for his future with the Caps not because he will never make the NHL -- at 21 it is far too early to label a player a “bust” -- but because you have to make a decision on his future while his trade value is still at its highest.
If the Caps think Johansen can have a big role with the organization in the future, it makes sense to keep him. If the team, however, looks at players like Alexeyev and Fehervary as the future and it is suddenly uncertain what sort of role Johansen could have in Washington, if any, then selling high becomes a realistic option.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Burning Questions: Does Samsonov get NHL time this season?
- No Sweat: Caps fans shouldn't worry about Ovi retirement quote
- Mailbag: Are Caps done for the summer?