Up Close: Marcus Johansson

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Marcus Johansson showed up for development camp amid great expectations.  After six days, and some ups and downs, the 19 year-old Swede left camp with generally favorable notices from the Caps brain trust but also with the recognition that he has some challenges ahead of him.

In an interview with Caps Snaps, Johansson disclosed that he had sought to adjust to the smaller ice and faster style of play in North American by making an equipment change during the camp.

 “I actually had to change my stick,” he said in flawless English. “I got a bigger blade.” The sort of blade he was accustomed to using in Sweden, he added, was too small for the quick tempo scrimmages he played at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex and the “pucks kept jumping over it.”

Johansson said that he started to play hockey when he three years old. His father had played amateur hockey and an older brother plays professionally. Johansson finished two seasons with Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League, which gave him an opportunity to go up against older players, and was captain of the Swedish Junior Team in the 2010 world tournament.

But playing in the NHL, he said, has always been his dream. He was picked by the Caps in the first round of last year’s draft. Bruce Boudreau, who had never seen Johansson play before development camps, said on Saturday that Johansson is “going to be in the mix” of the players who may make the Caps this year. If Johansson breaks into the Caps line-up as a center this season he would follow the path of his fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom, who went from playing in the Swedish elite league to the NHL in a year.

The issue for Johansson, Boudreau suggested on Saturday, is not Johansson’s hockey skills—his skating is “tremendous,’” the coach said-- but how quickly he can adapt to the North American game. Citing Backstrom’s experience, Boudreau implied that Johansson was on track to make those adjustments this year.

“We just play a different style than them.,” Boudreau  said.  “So it is hard for Marcus or especially the Swedes because their center man doesn’t forecheck.  But is something that Nicky got used to, and it just takes time.”

Johansson evinced confidence in his first development camp press conference with reporters. But as the week wore on his mood seemed to shift more to one of determination to move up the learning curve.

The past week, he said, has been “pretty difficult,” though a good learning experience. “It is a different game. It is smaller ice surface,” Johansson said.  “It is not as much neutral zone hockey as it is back home. It is more straight to the net and dump and chase than it is back home. So it is a pretty big difference, but it is a fun game.”

So far, Johansson has only received a few pointers from Backstrom. “I have talked a little bit to Backstrom but, you know, not much,” he said. “I will probably do that a little bit later.”

The next step for Johansson is the Caps training camp in September. Boudreau said he expected to seek a marked improvement in Johansson by then.  “I’m going to go back home for like one month or something and get ready for next camp,” Johansson said,  “and hopefully I will stay here.”

Photos: IMG_6537 by Chris.M.G..


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