ARLINGTON Va. — Washington Capitals defenseman Lucas Johansen has been trying to become an NHL player for seven years now. He battled through numerous injuries and struggled to find his offensive touch that he was known for when the Capitals drafted him back in 2016. It was very unclear what his future in the organization would be.
Johansen made the opening night roster out of training camp but served as a bottom pair defenseman and like the rest of the team, struggled defensively. After being a minus-3 against the Ottawa Senators, the 26-year-old rearguard was a healthy scratch for eight straight games.
However, he was put back in the lineup against the New Jersey Devils and tallied the primary assist on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s empty net goal.
On that same night, Martin Fehervary went down with an injury and did not play against the New York Islanders. The Port Moody, BC native was inserted once again on the third pair with Hardy Häman Aktell. But he was quickly promoted to the top pair with John Carlson and ended up logging a career-high 20:11 minutes of ice time.
“His progression and what he’s been able to accomplish through his years and through my time working with him in the minors and now he’s right there playing every day in the NHL or trying to play every day and he’s just earned more and more and put in so much work,” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery said. “He’s gone through a lot of bumps along the road, but he’s just kept his head down and continued to work and focus on getting better and he’s been rewarded for it.”
It was clear that he was not going to be the blue-liner that would generate offense. So, he focused on being a hard-nosed, in your face player who uses his 6-foot-2 frame to be physical and break up plays with his stick.
“You kind of got to start simple. You don’t want to add too much risk to your game and so I’ve really taken that kind of puck moving two-way, defensive defenseman role and just [tried] to instantiate myself in the lineup,” Johansen told NoVaCaps. “I want to be contributing when I can on offense but [making sure] taking care of our own end first.”
Johansen was a critical component to the Hershey Bears’ blue line during their Calder Cup run. While he racked up six points (two goals, four assists) in 20 games, he was a stable defensive defenseman and blocked a lot of shots in critical moments of games, none bigger than his game-saving stop in Game 4 of the Calder Cup Final.
“If you look at last year and how well he did and the role that he played on a championship team, sometimes that gives you a little bit more confidence,” Carlson said. “I feel like he should have had it anyway, but that always helps as a younger player trying to break in and you can tell he’s trusting himself; he’s trusting his reads and allowing all the good assets of his game to shine more.”
Johansen played a full 60 minutes with Carlson in Washington’s 3-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. He was outstanding defensively. He wasn’t giving the opposition time and space; he was strong on his stick and the best play of the game came in the second period.
The Golden Knights had a chance to tie the game at one with a three-on-one, odd-man rush. Johansen batted Jonathan Marchessault’s saucer pass out of the air and the Caps came away unscathed.
Quality from JoJo defending 1-on-3 pic.twitter.com/7yyVXa9EKh
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) November 15, 2023
“He was in a really tough spot with some really good players at a key moment in the game [and he] made a big play,” Carbery said. “Last night was a lot with from their team standpoint, there’s a couple of touches like the one he has in the neutral zone where [Jack] Eichel gets the breakaway [and gets] away from him on that one.”
While Johansen earned his way into the Capitals lineup for the last three games, and played big minutes, he might be the odd man out once Joel Edmundson and Trevor van Riemsdyk make their returns, which could be as early as this Saturday. But he will continue to work hard in practice and be ready whenever his name is called upon.
“Every day you gotta prove yourself here, every practice, every minute. You can’t take a second off. There’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that,” Johansen said. “Every shift I get, I’m gonna make the most of it. Play as hard as I can and just try and earn the second one.”
By Jacob Cheris