Entering training camp, the Caps had one center spot up for grabs. The candidates were youngsters Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson, and Cody Eakin. Eakin was a long shot from the beginning, but his play throughout camp kept him in the conversation. That is, until he was sent back down to captain his junior team in Swift Current for the 2010-2011 season.
Eakin’s play impressed many over the last few weeks, and it didn’t go unnoticed by coaching staff. The organization would probably love to have him in Hershey this season, but Eakin doesn’t meet the AHL’s minimum age requirement. Looking down the road, don’t be surprised if he cracks the Caps lineup in the next two or three years, which is a pretty sweet deal for a 19 year-old.
Meanwhile, it bring the center competition to just two. Both Perreault and Johansson have had very good camps. Perreault is three years older, and it shows in both his physical strength and his presence on this ice. However, Johansson is considerably more responsible in the defensive zone. So far in the preseason, Johansson has received time in every situation (PP, even strength, and PK) and has done it with poise. In the last game against the Bruins, he played winger with Nicklas Backstrom centering. After the first period, that line became dominant, particularly in the third period when they had a scoring chance nearly every shift.
It also may not be skill that determines which player stays, but logistics. While Perreault can free-flow to and from Hershey, Johansson has an out-clause in his contract allowing him to go back to Europe. While he wants to make the team, Johansson has implied that if he doesn’t make the Capitals opening night roster he will go back to play another year in Sweden.
Playing in Sweden wouldn’t allow Johansson to be called up and wouldn’t get him the practice he needs on the smaller ice surface. This might make management think about keeping him and sending down Perreault because he would be easier to call-up in any given situation. The fact that he can be sent down without being sent overseas may work against Perreault.
The two remaining preseason games come this weekend, framing the 2nd annual Caps Convention. This decision will be the closest in camp. Theoretically, the Caps have room for both of them on the roster. However, the other open role is that of 14th forward, and there is absolutely no reason to sit the skill these guys have on the bench. It will be a close call, but the edge might come down on the side of Johansson for versatility and logistical reasons. We’ll have to wait and see.
In the meantime, relive this sick shootout goal by Marcus Johansson from Development Camp. It’s a move to remember, and one of the reasons he could be staying in North America this year.