Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why Johansson Beats Perreault for NHL Spot

Perreault after scoring his first NHL goal
The debate between rookie Swede Marcus Johansson and his French Canadian counterpart Mathieu Perreault has been ongoing since training camp.  The battle between the two for the role as 2nd line center on the Caps was a blast to watch, and when the decision was ultimately made to start Johansson with the big club there seemed to be more outrage from the fan base than cheers.

That is understandable, as the Washington Capitals organization is a tight-knit one, and most Caps fans are also Hershey Bears fans. They have watched Perreault develop and tear up the AHL, and when they see performances like Sunday’s 6 assist effort from 85, they feel attached and utterly confused that he is not playing in the NHL. It is a natural progression; and it is also wrong.

The Capitals made the right choice in September when they picked Johansson over Perreault, and it’s mainly because of defense. The center position is the most difficult skating position in hockey. Not only are you responsible for setting offensive plays in motion and the safe transition of the puck through the neutral zone, but you are expected to be the first forward back on defense and break up plays.

It is an aspect of the position that doesn’t get a lot of thought when we think of centers like Nicklas Backstrom and Sidney Crosby who put up 100 points every year, but defense is as much their duty as offense is. And it is a part of the game in which Perreault lacks severely.  Both the youngsters have incredibly soft hands, as demonstrated here by Marcus Johansson:

He was a mere plus-4 in 21 games with the Capitals last year. That isn’t terrible, however his offensive production took a hard drop after the first few games of his call-up. Again, that would be about as expected from a rookie, but he was only able to tally 9 points over that span, something that does not compensate for his lack of defense.

There were regular instances where his mistakes would lead to goals against. While Johansson has certainly made some of those same mistakes, they are few and far between. Not only that, but he has been able to correct those mistakes to prevent them from leading to goals with his powerful skating and sound positioning. He plays a safer game, and that makes him much less of a defensive liability.

Perreault has the stronger offensive upside at this point in their careers. However, the most important thing a rookie must do is limit his liability. If they can’t be trusted on the ice in several situations, they aren’t going to develop.

Perreault and Johansson need to develop different aspects of their games. Johansson mainly needs to adjust to the speed and physicality of the game, while Perreault needs to firm up his defensive positioning. They are in the best leagues to help each of their deficiencies. With bigger and faster bodies in the NHL, Johansson will get more experience and improve faster at that level. The NHL is too fast for Perreault to be able to tighten up his defense, and he will be able to create his foundational positioning more productively in the AHL.

It’s remarkable in and of itself that the Caps community is able to have this debate. These are two young, NHL-quality centers that the organization has at its disposal. Unfortunately for Perreault, patience is the price you pay for being drafted into a strong franchise. It is safe to say that as long as we are having this debate, we can be grateful for the seasons to come in which these two talents will play together in the best league in the world.


  1. "A mere plus-4 over 21 games last year." How about Steckel, then? Lacks offense, miserable +/-, on ice for more team goals against than any other forward... Yet I imagine he's good to go in your book, as he is in far too many Caps bloggers'. Perrault has shown he can play at the NHL level. Is he Backstrom or Crosby? No, of course not. Should he be here instead of MoJo? Absolutely. Why put a kid into the fire when we have someone of comparable skill that doesn't need coddling and development?

  2. Boush, I hear ya. But where Stecks is so strong is the reliable feeling he brings when we need to win a draw. Personally, I would love and I have been saying this for three years now that we need to trade Flash. He has to go, I believe he is talented, but he doesn't work with what we have and I'd much rather have him go and bring Aucoin or Perreault up! I know Aucoin is injured, but I think he would be much better than Flash. I have gotten soo tired over the years seeing Flash turn the puck over and lack the numbers he can get.

  3. I'm not sold on the Flash trade yet. I think that Boudreau, over the team's past 50-60 games, has made some serious mistakes, maybe because he is in panic mode about trying to craft the perfect team. Guys like Fleischmann and Fehr, in my opinion, have the skill set the team needs, but Boudreau changes their lines seemingly every game. Let these guys play 10 games in a row with the same linemates and I'd bet you see the consistency that everyone laments they lack. If they play with a consistent line, and I'm proven wrong, I'll be the first to admit it, but I can't get behind trading players who have been hurt by their coach's impatience and attempts at creativity.

    Also, when Boudreau rewards players like Steckel, who, despite his faceoff dominance, has a fairly consistent team-worst plus/minus and is typically in the bottom 100 forwards in the league in points, it has to hurt the confidence of guys who are playing better but get benched. So, yes, bring up Aucoin and Perrault if t all possible. It's not like small forwards are unsuccessful in this league. Just think back to the playoffs if you dare...

  4. Something to keep in mind with Steckel's plus/minus is that he spends a lot of time on the penalty kill and none on the power play. He is also often against opponents' tougher lines. That being said, I disagree with the contract the team signed him to last year. I think it is too much, and he wouldn't make anything close to that 1.1 mil on the open market. His faceoffs are very strong, which Caps can't afford to lose right now since their other centers are often inconsistent at the dot. Steckel's play on the PK is also a big part of why the PK is doing so well this year. He's a solid player, who is getting somewhat over paid.

    However, his role has nothing to do with Johansson and/or Perreault because neither of them is going to play the role of 4th line center. So while you bring up a valid point, Steckel's position on the team doesn't affect them at all since neither would fill his spot anyway.

  5. Decent article, but it lacks enough raw data to sway one's opinion. It would be beneficial to see some metrics to support what is essentially the same argument stated 4 different ways. Also - your leading subject pronoun in the 5th paragraph refers to the wrong person: you switch from Johansson to Perreault without a literary transition.

  6. 10 minutes into tonight's game, and I think I win the debate. I'll take Perrault any day over this garbage.