The New Jersey Devils solidified their top-six Sunday by shipping two picks acquired through non-traditional means to the Washington Capitals for Marcus Johansson.
In July 2015, the Devils received a third-round pick from the Maple Leafs as compensation for Toronto hiring Lou Lamoriello. The following June, New Jersey landed a second-round pick from the Florida Panthers as part of a cap-clearing deal that brought Marc Savard’s contract — all $4 million of it — to the Garden State.
And, remarkably, the Devils have now turned those two picks into a top-six winger.
In a Sunday deal, New Jersey addressed their need to bulk up their offense by shipping the selections tied to Lamoriello and Savard to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Marcus Johansson, and it might be one of the most intriguing bits of GM handiwork of the summer. Essentially, the move saw Devils GM Ray Shero turn a former executive and a center who didn’t play a single second for New Jersey into Johansson.
And if it seems at all like New Jersey landed Johansson at a cut rate, that’s because they did, benefitting from a Capitals team facing a cap crunch and a need to sell off players.
With Sunday’s signing of Evgeny Kuznetsov to an eight-year, $62.4-million deal, Washington was in line to have little more than $4 million in cap space with contracts for Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer yet to be finalized, not to mention a roster that could still use an addition here or there via free agency. That meant clearing cap space was of utmost importance to the Capitals this summer, and, when taking a look over the roster, it seemed as though Johansson, who was effective but replaceable, would become the odd man out.
But Washington’s cap problems have certainly turned into a sizeable gain for New Jersey, as they land Johansson, 26, right as the winger is coming off of the best campaign of his career.
This past season, Johansson managed 24 goals and 58 points for the Capitals, and he comes into New Jersey at a time when the Devils are attempting to turn things around. Adding Johansson to the mix rounds out a top six that already included Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac and, after landing the first-overall pick in the draft lottery, Nico Hischier, and it almost certainly ensures that New Jersey’s offense, which was third-worst in the league in 2016-17 with 180 goals for, will see a boost in some way. Even if Johansson only adds 15 goals to the lineup, a total which seems likely give his past production, his ability as a setup man can give the Devils an attack more in line with the league average.
Bringing Johansson into the fold goes beyond production at even strength, though. New Jersey’s power play wasn’t downright abysmal this past season, as it clipped along at 17.5 percent, but it was still in the bottom third of the league. Johansson may not be the standout name from the Capitals’ attack, but it’s worth noting that he was the third-highest power play scorer among Washington’s forwards over the past four seasons. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were, as one would assume, one-two, but Johansson’s 20 goals and 69 points with the extra man are a testament to his ability to help a power play.
Defensively, Johansson should also be a welcome addition in New Jersey. He won’t be confused with Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews, but Johansson is reliable in his own end, and even if he’s not about to win the Selke Trophy, adding another forward who can be thrown over the boards against top opposition is going to help the Devils improve in their own end.
Maybe the best thing about the acquisition for New Jersey, however, is Johansson’s versatility. He has primarily played on the left wing over the past few seasons, but Johansson can slot into any position up front and be effective. Is he best utilized as a center? Probably not, but the fact he can play down the middle in a pinch makes him a nice piece for the Devils to have.
And while the assets that were moved along to land Johansson may not have come about in the most traditional way, New Jersey is yet another team to prove that the best asset for a growing club is picks and a lot of them, no matter how they come about.
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