The Kraken moved Friday to shore up its center depth by signing free-agent Swedish forward Marcus Johansson to a one-year, $1.5 million deal.
Johansson, 30, who most recently played with the Minnesota Wild, is a former 20-goal, 50-point man with the Washington Capitals whose career slowed in recent seasons due to serious concussion and lung contusion injuries and likely his frequent changing of teams. But Johansson fits the Kraken’s short-term approach to its debut season in that he’s a strong two-way player, experienced at both the center and wing positions and represents a minimal short-term gamble.
“Marcus plays a fast game and brings us another veteran presence with a significant amount of playoff experience,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis said in a news release. “His speed, skill and versatility will help our forward group.”
The Kraken also agreed to a two-year deal worth $4 million annually on average with restricted free-agent defenseman Vince Dunn, 24, who’d been selected from St. Louis in the expansion draft. Restricted free agents almost never leave their teams once tendered an offer sheet, so it was just a matter of the Kraken finalizing a deal with the 6-foot, 203-pounder, who set a career high with 0.47 points-per-game and 3.69 blocked shots per 60 minutes last season.
“Vince is a mobile, puck-moving defenseman that can help generate offense from our blueline,” Francis said of the left-handed shooting defender, who could help quarterback the team’s power-play this season. “He’s a smooth skater that helps drive possession and plays a physical game.”
Dunn’s deal and the Johansson signing leave the Kraken with about $10 million in remaining salary-cap space for the coming season. Francis is expected to make additional moves before the team’s Oct. 12 season opener against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Johansson bolsters a Kraken team lacking depth at the center position, with projected top-liner Yanni Gourde out until at least November after shoulder surgery. The team recently took University of Michigan center Matty Beniers No. 2 overall in the entry draft, but he’s only 18 and there’s a strong chance he’ll return for another year of school before making the NHL jump.
In the interim, the Kraken has loaded up on several forwards who can play center as well as wing. They include Calle Jarnkrok, Jared McCann, Mason Appleton and now the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Johansson, who scored four goals and added 11 assists for the Boston Bruins during their 2019 run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Johansson broke into the NHL as a center after being taken 24th overall by the Capitals in the 2009 entry draft. He’s spent the bulk of his career at left wing but more recently shifted to the right side for both the Bruins and Wild.
While not an elite scorer by any means, Johansson does have a pair of 20-goal seasons — including a career-best 24 with the Capitals in 2016-17 — and his experience should help the team stabilize its forward lines beyond what it already had.
Alex Wennberg, a third-line center taken from the Florida Panthers in the expansion draft, is expected to fill the top-line role in Gourde’s absence. The Kraken also has centerman Morgan Geekie as a potential fourth liner, though he’d had limited exposure to the position at the NHL level before the Kraken selected him from Carolina in the expansion draft.
The “middle six” second and third lines could be centered by Jarnkrok, McCann or Appleton, though Johansson now provides an additional option. Or, keeping Johansson on a wing allows McCann or Jarnkrok to fill the center role without sacrificing as much offense on the flanks.
Johansson had six goals and eight assists in 36 games for the Wild last season but broke his arm in Game 3 of the team’s first-round playoff series against Vegas. He didn’t play again and the Wild went on to lose in seven games.