“It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.”
-- Winston Churchill
Tyler Seguin, Jordan Eberle, Jeff Skinner, Derek Stepan, Marcus Johansson. Those are the five players who, in their first five seasons ending with last year’s campaign have appeared in at least 300 career games, recording at least 60 goals and at least 150 points. Oh sure, you could say that such production on Johansson's part has been achieved mostly as the third guy on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, but keep in mind that last season he set a personal best of 17 even strength goals playing primarily with Troy Brouwer and Evgeny Kuznetsov at 5-on-5.
Johansson had a number of career bests last seaaon. For the first time in his five-year career he appeared in all 82 games. Twenty goals was a personal best. So was 47 points. Encouraged to shoot more, he recorded a career high 138 shots on goal. His total shots attempted (253) obliterated his previous best (177 in each of his first two seasons). He even had 69 credited hits. Not “Brooks Orpik-ish,” but it was more than, say, Joel Ward (53 in 82 games).
His production was an ingredient in Caps success last season, as well. Washington was 12-3-3 in games in which Johansson recorded a goal, 23-9-6 in games in which he recorded a point. Johansson was also a very consistent performer last season. He had at least one goal in each ten-game segment over the course of the season, and he had five or more points in six of the eight segments.
There was also the matter of effectiveness at the other end of the ice. Of 115 forwards appearing in at least 80 games last season, only 12 were on ice for fewer goals than Johansson (41 in 82 games). Then there is the notion of playing within the rules. In the modern era of hockey (post 1967 expansion), only 11 players have appeared in more than 300 games and recorded 50 or fewer career penalty minutes. Johansson (345 games, 36 career penalty minutes) is one of those 11. Last season, among players recording at least 1,000 minutes of ice time, Johansson was 12th in minutes of total ice time per penalty minute charged (10 PIMS in 1,351 minutes).
Johansson had the best possession numbers of his career in 2014-2015. His Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 (53.8) was the first time in five years he finished north of 50 percent. His Corsi-relative at 5-on-5 (plus-2.4) was also his best in five seasons. Part of that might have been the overall approach employed by new head coach Barry Trotz – Johansson’s Corsi-against/60 was the lowest (51.2) by far of his career (57.7 in 2012-2013; numbers from war-on-ice.com). Still, Johansson has shown himself to be consistent, responsible at both ends of the ice, and characterized by modest improvements in his underlying numbers.
In his last 40 playoff games, Marcus Johansson has three goals. That is as many as Jay Beagle has in 37 career playoff games. It is as many as Karl Alzner has in his last 18 playoff games. He has only nine points in his last 36 postseason games. That is as many as Joel Ward had in 14 games last spring. Is is as many as Calgary rookie Johnny Gaudreau had in 11 games last spring. The Caps needed – they need – more out of Johansson in these games than they are getting.
The Big Question… What is Johansson’s upside, and have we seen it?
In his first five years, Marcus Johansson has averaged 0.54 points per game. In the three seasons in which he appeared in more than 70 games, he hovered right around that number – 0.58 points per game in 2011-2012, 0.55 points per game in 2013-2014, and 0.57 points per game last season. He will turn 25 in the first week of October, so there is a line of thinking that says he is still some time away from reaching the chronological prime of his career.
Some things to think about. If you compare their first five seasons, T.J. Oshie has better overall numbers on a per-game basis than Johansson: 0.24 to 0.18 in goals, 0.43 to 0.36 in assists, 0.67 to 0.54 in points. On the other hand, Johansson’s best season in goals (20) was better than Oshie’s (19), and his best assist year (36) was better than Oshie’s best (35). And, Oshie’s first five years in the NHL ended with Oshie at age 26, Johansson at age 24. Then consider two players, both in their numbers over their first five seasons. Both played in 345 games. Player A was 61-125-186, minus-15. Player B was 73-118-191, minus-8. Player A is Marcus Johansson; Player B is Ryan O’Reilly. You could say O’Reilly has more of an upside (his five year window was at a younger age than Johansson, and he does have a 28-goal season on his resume). But Johansson might not be all that far behind him, either, despite all those favorable linemate assignments in the early part of his career.
In the end…
Marcus Johansson has had a curious early career. He was the 24th overall pick of the 2009 entry draft, but he is top-ten in his draft cohort in games played (345/8th), goals (61/7th), assists (125/5th), and points (186/5th). Yet, he seems oddly underappreciated by Capitals Nation. He has a calm demeanor on the ice, not unlike countryman Nicklas Backstrom, which some might mistake for a lackadaisical approach. He has seemed a bit deferential when playing with more accomplished linemates Ovechkin and Backstrom, but he took guidance to heart this past season and shot more, with pleasant results. His body of work was enough for an arbitrator to award him a one-year, $3.75 million contract. On an average value basis It is equivalent to the contract of Jakob Silfverberg, a player with similar per-game offensive production in his first three years (the contract circumstances differ; Silfverberg’s contact is a four-year deal), and Anders Lee, whose four-year deal that starts this year is for a player who stepped up with a 25-goal season last year for the New York Islanders.
Johansson’s compensation appears reasonable given the average annual value neighborhood in which he resides (based on numbers from generalfanager.com). As the season approaches that affords Johansson an opportunity to raise his value, there is the matter of just where he is going to play. The default position would seem to be on the left side on the second line. He could fill in at center on the third line if Nicklas Backstrom does not open the season ready to play, although head coach Barry Trotz said that Johansson will open training camp at wing. Wherever he opens the regular season – or closes it, for that matter – improving his performance in the postseason is going to be a critical element in the Caps’ ability to go deeper than we have seen in recent years. In that sense, even looking ahead to what next summer might bring in terms of a new contract might be a bit too far on the horizon. Johansson has links in his career chain to handle first.
Projection: 80 games, 19-30-49, plus-7
Photo: Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America