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Other than the signing of Brian Boyle, it was a quiet first day of free agency for the New Jersey Devils. That didn’t mean Ray Shero wasn’t busy looking to make additions. After working out the details on July 1st, Shero sent Florida and Toronto’s previously acquired second and third round picks in the 2018 NHL Draft to the Washington Capitals for forward Marcus Johansson on Sunday evening. Johansson is coming off a career year, tallying 24 goals and 58 points in 82 games played, but was a cap casualty after Washington gave massive extensions to T.J. Oshie, Dmitry Orlov, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
The trade came as a surprise to many, including Johansson himself; but make no mistake about it, the Capitals loss is New Jersey’s gain. The Devils are getting a strong top-six forward who will be able to help on both ends of the ice.
Over his last three seasons in Washington, Johansson has really come into his own as a top-six forward. He’s been a 51.9% possession player, which was the sixth-best mark on Washington for a forward, and has done a good job of generating shots at 54.9 shot attempts per 60 minutes. Johansson enjoyed a particularly robust 2016-17 with a 53.2% possession line and was the best shot suppressing forward on the Capitals averaging 47.8 shot attempts against per 60 minutes.
Not only does Johansson generate and suppress shots, he’s been a steady point producer at even-strength. Over the last three seasons, he’s averaged 1.71 points per 60 minutes, which is better than names such as Jonathan Drouin and Jakub Voracek. Since the lockout-shortened season, he’s scored more than 40+ points every year, and has scored 20 or more goals in two of those four seasons. For his career, he’s averaged 47.4 points per 82 games, which is a solid mark for a second line forward in today’s NHL.
I mentioned above Johansson is coming off a career year, where he tallied 24 goals shooting 18.6%, which is well above his career percentage of 13.6%. That being said, Johansson scored 20 goals shooting just above 14% as recently as 2014-15, so he definitely has a knack for scoring goals. Although he’s capable of finding the back of the net, Johansson has really made a name for himself as a playmaker. In each of the last four seasons, he’s tallied 36, 27, 29 and 34 assists and has equivalent assist rates as players such as Alex Galchenyuk and Filip Forsberg during that time.
Even though Johansson posted career-highs last season, it’s not necessarily a fluke. His individual point percentage, which measures how often a player is awarded a point when he’s on the ice for a goal for, was 57.1% with the league average for forwards being around 68%. Given the right line mates, it would be fair to expect Johansson to have more 50-point seasons ahead of him.
At the end of the day, the Devils got themselves a very good top-six forward who can play any forward position. Ray Shero was able to take advantage of a cap-strapped team and helped the Devils get Johansson for less than what he’s worth. Shero said they can see Johansson playing either left wing or center for the Devils, but considering their current lack of depth at right wing, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Johansson start on the right side. He has the versatility to play all three forward spots and has done so before, so it shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Johansson still has a lot of good years ahead of him and he’s signed for two more years with a team-friendly cap hit just over $4.5 million. There’s still a long way to go this offseason and the Devils still have plenty of cap space to use. I expect Ray Shero to look to complete a few more trades similar to Johansson’s, whether it’s on defense or up front and they have the assets to do it. However you look at it, the Devils got a lot better with this trade and took another step forward with their rebuild. Keep making similar acquisitions and the Devils will be back competing in the Metropolitan Division sooner rather than later.
Advanced stats are from Hockey Analysis