HERSHEY, Pa.Lucas Johansen‘s entry-level contract expires at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season. It feels like just yesterday that the blue liner took the ice for the first time as a rookie back in the 2017-18 season.

Johansen enters the offseason as a restricted free agent, looking to extend his time with the Washington Capitals organization after being drafted 28th overall by the club in 2016. He has spent the past three seasons with the Bears, and is looking to compete with a growing pool of defensive prospects for a potential shot in the NHL.

Johansen made his debut for the Bears in a season where things didn’t go well for the team as a whole, with Hershey missing the postseason for only the second time during their current affiliation with the Capitals. Johansen only missed two games in his rookie season, scoring six goals and adding 21 assists — very solid numbers for a defender with offensive talent. His plus-minus wasn’t great at minus-13, but during that season, it was hard to come by a Bears player who didn’t have a minus in that department.

Hershey struggled again out of the gate in the 2018-19 season. Johansen played 17 games before sustaining a late November injury that held him out until early February, rejoining the team as they made the push to make the Calder Cup Playoffs. He finished with three goals and 11 assists for 14 points in 45 games played, adding two assists in nine games during the postseason. Had the season been played in full for the second-year defender, it’s more than likely he would have exceeded the offensive output of his rookie season.

Unfortunately, Johansen spent the majority of the 2019-20 season injured, appearing in just nine games for the Bears and only three since October 26, recording two assists and a plus-three rating for the year.

2019-20 featured a very crowded blue line to start the season, but injuries to Johansen and fellow restricted free agent Connor Hobbs — as well as the trading of Christian Djoos at the deadline — changed the entire shape of Hershey’s defensive group. Martin Fehervary, Alexander Alexeyev, and Bobby Nardella were all rookies who ran with the opportunities as a result. Other players like Eddie Wittchow made a big impact on the blue line to fill the void. Just prior to the last game Hershey played, we saw Johansen as a full participant in practice with the scratches back at Giant Center.

It’s certainly a bummer that Johansen was likely nearing a return to the lineup prior to the interruption of the season. It continues an unfortunate trend we’ve seen with the group of Hershey skaters poised to become restricted free agents. Daniel Sprong only had a five-game stint with the Bears, Brian Pinho had a 20-goal campaign cut short, and Shane Gersich didn’t get to complete an improved second season. Johansen would have had to compete for a bigger role, but there’s little doubt he would be a mainstay in Hershey’s lineup when he returned.

Photo Credit: Nate Follmer / The Sin Bin

It would be easy to guess Washington would be eager to sign Johansen to an extension; it would be very rare to let a first round pick go as a restricted free agent. He still has a lot to learn and will continue to grow at the AHL level with the Bears. But, coming back for a 2020-21 campaign fully healthy and ready to roll should result in the best season yet for Johansen, putting him back up on the depth chart for Washington defensemen. It should be healthy competition for Johansen with a very young potential blue line for Hershey next season.

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