On paper, Marcus Johansson doesn't stand out in any particular way. The Washington Capitals prospect nicknamed "Mackan" in Sweden is not the biggest player at 5'11 and 190 pounds and he doesn't have flashy numbers. Even scouts who see him play will say that he doesn't have any particular facet of his game that stands out [Hockey's Future, NHL Draft Scouting Report, Scouting Report, Draft Story].
Rather, it is his all-around game that is his strength. A left-shooting forward, he can play center and left-winger equally well. He is a smart, fast player adept at both offense and defense and he usually comes away with the puck in the corners. He likes to play with the puck and can usually find the open man with a pass, but he also has a nice shot selection he needs to use more often. He has good stickhandling skills and good hand-eye coordination, skills that serve him well when he often plays in the heavy traffic areas. He can be physical but doesn't usually seek contact, which is not surprising considering his 3 concussions, though there have been exceptions:
Johansson made his professional debut two years before the Capitals made him the 24th overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft out of Färjestads BK of the Elitserien (Swedish Elite League-SEL), one of the 5 best professional hockey leagues in the world [story, interview, Swedish player page]. On May 17, the Caps signed him to a three-year entry level deal worth $900,000 per season [story]. He was presented with his #90 jersey then, the same number he wore last season in Sweden, and he will be only the second Capital to wear that number. Once George McPhee said that Johansson would compete for a roster spot this coming season [story, story, story, story], it opened the possibility that he could fill the vacant second-line center spot. That might be a bit much to expect from a player who will turn 20 on October 6, but to get a better idea what to expect from him, I took a look at his past. It wouldn't be realistic to expect Johansson to lay claim to the #2 center spot next year, though it is more likely Johansson will play #3 center.
George McPhee, Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, and Bruce Boudreau
Marcus Johansson comes from a hockey family. His older brother Martin was his teammate on Färjestads BK Karlstad in Sweden and helped him to adjust to professional life, until Marcus took his roster spot. Their uncle Gunnar was an excellent player and coach in his day, spending most of his hockey career with his hometown Färjestads BK Karlstad.
In 2005-06, the 15-year old Johansson began playing against kids as old as 17 when he appeared for the Malmö Redhawks in the J18 Allsvenskan, where he played with one Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson, a winger who the Edmonton Oilers took 14 spots ahead of Mackan in the 2009 draft.
Malmö is just a short distance from his hometown of Landskrona, just across the Öresund Bridge from Copenhagen. Mackan played 12 of 14 games and finished second on the team with 7 assists. He led the team with 4 helpers in 6 playoff games. He scored no goals and took no penalties during the season and the team finished second in the league.
In 2006-07, the 16-year old Johansson and Pääjärvi-Svensson played for Skåne in the TV-Pucken league and they went 1-2 in team scoring. The TV-Pucken league is a tournament for boys under age 17 that was started in 1959 with the idea of showing all the games on television. Johansson finished second on the team in goals (5) and points (10) and led the team with 5 assists and 41 PIM. His 10 points was good for a 9th place tie in the league.
Johansson changed teams for the 2006-07 J18 Allsvenskan season, moving to Färjestads BK Karlstad. He played 12 of 14 regular season games and finished 5th in team scoring with 14 points and 4th on the team with 9 assists. He also had 8 PIM. In the playoffs, Johansson broke out, scoring a league-leading 7 goals and added 3 assists in 8 games with only one penalty as the team won the Sweden Under-18 championship.
In April 2007, the 16-year old Johansson took his show on the road to Tampere, Finland, for the 2007 IIHF World Under-18 Tournament. Wearing #22, Johansson played in all 6 games as Sweden took home the Bronze Medal.
Johansson finished with 4 assists, good for second on the team and tied for 11th overall in the 8 team tournament. He also finished tied for 3rd on Team Sweden with a +5. In addition, he fired 11 shots on goal. In the Bronze Medal game against a loaded Team Canada, Johansson recorded all four of his assists in that game as Sweden won 8-3. One of his assists came after Canada goalie Trevor Cann was pulled in favor of Braden Holtby.
Capitals prospect Braden Holtby
Johansson raised his game against a superior opponent and came through when it really mattered.
To put in perspective how heavily favored Canada was in that game, Team Canada had 9 players who have played in the NHL as of today for a total of 788 games and 362 points, including forward Steven Stamkos, and defensemen Drew Doughty and Luke Schenn. Four players from that Team Sweden have played in the NHL so far for a total of 173 games played and 52 points, including defenseman Victor Hedman and the team captain, forward Oscar Möller.
Victor Hedman Steven Stamkos
In August 2007, Johansson again represented his country at the 2007 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, the World Cup of U18 hockey, held in Hodonín, Czech Republic. Wearing #11, Johansson was named an alternate captain and again teamed with captain Victor Hedman and Pääjärvi-Svensson. Mackan finished the 4-game tournament with 1 goal, a +2 rating, and 2 PIM as Sweden won the gold medal, 3-2 in overtime over rival Finland, marking the only time Sweden has ever won the tournament.
Johansson appeared again 2007-08 with the Färjestads BK Karlstad J18 Allsvenskan team, playing 12 games and posting 6 goals and 18 points with no penalties. His 12 assists were 2nd on the team. He also played 8 playoff games and posted a league-leading 8 assists and 12 points and no penalties. He moved up to the J18 Elit team and posted 6 goals and 20 points in 12 games, plus 16 PIM. Johansson was loaned for 19 games to Skåre BK in Division 1, a league below the Elitserien, and posted 2 goals, 12 points, and 10 PIM before moving up to the big club. Also on Skåre BK that season was a Monster of a goaltender.
Marcus also began his professional career in the Elitserien playoffs with Färjestads BK Karlstad, seeing limited ice time in 3 games. [Elitserien Player Page]
In April 2008, Johansson again represented Team Sweden at the IIHF World Under-18 Championships, this time in Kazan, Russia, in the Republic of Tatarstan. Wearing #11 and the alternate captain's "A," he again teamed up with captain Victor Hedman and Pääjärvi-Svensson as Team Sweden lost in the Bronze Medal game to Team USA.
Johansson tied for 4th on Team Sweden with 3 goals and 5 points in 6 games. He also posted a +3 rating, 14 PIM, and a 37.5% shooting percentage after netting 3 goals on only 8 shots. He was named the best player on Team Sweden in their 5-3 victory over Finland in which he assisted on a Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson powerplay goal in the second period and scored an unassisted empty-net goal with 21 seconds left. That he was on the ice in the final minute of a one-goal game against Sweden's biggest rival says a lot about Coach Stephan Lundh's confidence in him. In the final preliminary game against Switzerland, Mackan posted 2 goals, including one on the powerplay, as Sweden won 7-0 to stay undefeated. His last point was a primary assist to give Sweden a 1-0 lead just 5:51 into a 3-2 loss to Team Canada in the semifinals.
Mackan with Färjestads BK
The 2008-09 season was Johansson's first full pro season with regular season champs Färjestads BK, who play at the 8,250-seat Löfbergs Lila Arena. After starting out with 2 goals in 2 games with the J18 Allsvenskan team, Mackan donned #26 with the big club and and played 45 of 55 games. He posted a respectable 5 goals (1 shorthanded) and 10 points in 9:53 of ice time to go along with only 4 penalty minutes and a +4 rating. He was again loaned to Skåre BK in Division 1, where he posted 5 goals and 10 points in 5 games. Johansson recorded no points or penalties and a -1 in 6 playoff games as a strong and deep Färjestads team won the Elitserien championship.
During the holidays, Johansson once again represented his country, this time in the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championships in Ottawa, Ontario. He was reunited with many of his teammates who won U18 Bronze two years before, including Hedman and Pääjärvi-Svensson, and they returned home this time with the Silver.
Wearing #11, Mackan scored tied for fourth on the team with 2 goals in 6 games and tied for fifth with a +5 rating. He again had a high shooting percentage, 22.22%, after firing only 9 shots on goal. He was not on the ice for an even strength goal against.
Johansson opened the tournament for Sweden by scoring 9:15 into the first game, a 3-1 win against rival Team Finland. His other goal came unassisted in the 4th qualifying game, a 5-0 win against Team Russia. Team Sweden went undefeated until the final game of the tournament.
In the Gold Medal game, Sweden fell to Canada 5-1 before a raucous hometown crowd at Scotiabank Place. Team Canada had a loaded roster that included John Tavares, Evander Kane, Tyler Myers, P.K. Subban, and Washington Capitals prospect Stefan Della Rovere.
Stefan Della Rovere
Marcus Johansson's 2009-10 season with Färjestads BK Karlstad was a big improvement on his previous season. Wearing #90, he played 42 of 55 games and doubled his output to 10 goals and 20 points. He managed 3 powerplay goals and 1 shorthanded goal on the season, an even rating, and only 10 penalty minutes. He averaged 14:05 of time on ice for the season. He finished 6th in team points scoring and tied for 4th in goal scoring, second in both categories among the team's centers. The team finished 5th in the regular season standings and fell to Skellefteå in 7 games during the first round of the playoffs. Johansson recorded a team-leading 5 assists in 7 games, and his 5 points were second on the team. He also recorded 2 PIM.
Johansson appeared again in the IIHF World Juniors in 2010, this time as team captain. Once again playing on Canadian soil during the holidays, Mackan led Team Sweden to a Bronze Medal in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Johansson had a goal and 6 points in 5 games to go along with a +7 rating and a team-leading 29 PIM. His 5 assists were 4th on the team. He fired 13 shots on net to give him a 7.7% shooting percentage.
In the first game, a 10-1 rout over the Czech Republic, Johansson and Pääjärvi-Svensson teamed up to assist on two powerplay goals. Johansson had another powerplay assist in a 7-3 win over Austria in the second game. In the third qualifying game, Johansson set up the shorthanded game-winning goal by Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson in a 4-1 win over Russia. In the 7-1 steamrolling of rival Team Finland, Johansson set up another Pääjärvi-Svensson goal and then added one of his own to kick the extra point. In the next game, a 5-2 semifinal loss against John Carlson and the United States, Johansson got himself ejected for an apparent elbow. Team Sweden thought he would be suspended for the Bronze Medal game and didn't dress him, only to find out later that he could have played. No matter, Sweden thumped Switzerland 11-4 without him.
Capitals Defenseman John Carlson
Here are some Johansson highlights:
It wouldn't be realistic to expect Johansson to lay claim to the #2 center spot next year, though it is not out of the realm of possibility. It is more likely Johansson will play #3 center, as his ice time in Sweden last season is a more realistic ice time for a #3. It would put less pressure on him to score, as his first priority in the NHL will be to learn the ropes, and he may well play left winger for a while to do that. He has the defensive skill set to be an effective checking center, especially if he had someone like Boyd Gordon or Brooks Laich on his line to help with faceoffs. He could be an effective scoring center next season in small doses. Johansson has not had a heavy dose of games like the NHL doles out, in Sweden there are many more practice days and longer stretches between games. He could also be effective on both special teams units, which would make him even more valuable. Johansson has not advanced in Sweden nearly as quickly as Nicklas Bäckström, and he wasn't put in the same roles, so it wouldn't be realistic to expect him to produce like Bäckström did in his first season.
#19 Nicklas Bäckström
In short, Johansson may turn out to be another Brendan Morrison, an effective 2-way, 2nd line center, but it won't happen overnight. He does have the skill set and the toughness to be a good NHL center, and he has the leadership and team-first attitude that wins championships. He will be here for a long time, there's no need to rush him.
The Capitals still have a vacancy at #2 center for next season.
Note: This story was originally published on "A Capital Offense."