Like most Caps fans, Adam Oates has been rolling forward lines through his head all summer long. On Saturday he made a few things clear.
Barring injury, newly re-signed Marcus Johansson will begin the season as a top-line left wing with center Nicklas Backstrom and right wing Alex Ovechkin.
And with Mikhail Grabovski replacing Mike Ribeiro at second-line center, Oates sees Brooks Laich as a left winger.
That could have been drastically different if Johansson could not come to terms on a two-year contract worth $4 million on Saturday.
“You want to start the year correct,” Oates said. “Sometimes these things happen and I’m just glad we got it done.”
Johansson, who was in Sweden on Saturday and not immediately available to comment, struggled through the first month of last season, recording two goals and one assist in his first 13 games.
At that time, Johansson, 22, was battling through the concussion symptoms caused by a training camp collision with Ovechkin. But when he was placed on the top line, Johansson’s offensive output rocketed. He had six goals and 16 assists in 21 games with Backstrom and Ovechkin, a pace that would have given him 74 points over a full 82 games.
“We started playing better and he was a part of that,” Oates said. “In my mind we’ll start with them again. Marcus is a lot younger than [Backstrom, 25] and [Ovechkin, 27] and we’re looking for him to keep growing as a hockey player and improving.
“He needs more time in the league. More games, more feeling the position, more growing into his body and getting stronger.”
Based on the length of the negotiations, Johansson probably figured he was worth mote than the $4 million the Caps will pay him over the next two years and Oates said that should provide enough incentive for him to put up big numbers over the next two seasons.
“He’s got a great opportunity to start with two great hockey players,” Oates said. “It’s a good situation, where the coaches like him, the GM likes him and he’s got an opportunity in the next couple years to prove he can be a dominant player in this league and then you get rewarded if you succeed.”
With Johansson in the fold and Laich projecting as a left wing, here’s one man’s forward line combinations heading into Thursday’s first day of training camp:
Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Brooks Laich – Mikhail Grabovski – Troy Brouwer
Martin Erat – Mathieu Perreault – Tom Wilson
Eric Fehr – Jay Beagle – Joel Ward
Jason Chimera – Aaron Volpatti