Ask Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson about which specific areas of his game that he would like to improve and he will often respond by pointing to his on-ice assertiveness.
Entering his fifth NHL season, which begins Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens, that particular assessment has not changed.
"I'm thinking I'm going to try to take the puck to the net a little more and shoot a little more," Johansson said Tuesday during the Capitals' annual media luncheon. "I think I've always been a pass-first guy, but sometimes you need to score yourself and shoot and create stuff from shooting. That's something I'm trying to get into my game a little more."
Johansson has established himself as an productive puck distributor. At 5-on-5 last season, he ranked second among his teammates with 19 assists, a team-leading 16 of which were primary. He also led the Capitals in what since-shuttered website ExtraSkater.com referred to as "setup passes," a rough estimate of passes that directly led to a shot attempt.
The 24-year-old, though, was historically ineffective in terms of goal-scoring. He became the first player in NHL history to play at least 1,400 minutes and score two or fewer even-strength goals. In all, he has scored five 5-on-5 goals over the past two seasons despite primarily playing with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, two of the NHL's premier offensive catalysts.
Of course, his two-year average (2012-14) of 4.11 5-on-5 shots per 60 minutes, which ranks 139th out of 141 forwards with at least 1,500 minutes of ice time, may have something to do with that.
"He's been a little bit of a pass-first player and it shows in his goal totals," coach Barry Trotz said. "I need Marcus to pull the trigger a little bit more than he has. And he will. He's going to get some good looks and I've seen him shoot the puck, so I know he can score some goals for us."
The Capitals expect the fleet-footed Johansson to attain that long sought-after assertiveness by relying on his smooth-skating ability to create scoring chances.
"For me, Marcus is about speed. You should be able to notice his speed every night," general manager Brian MacLellan said. "If he doesn't pop out at you speed-wise, I don't think he's going to be an effective player. We'd like to see him skating and backing off defensemen with opportunities to shoot the puck as a result of that speed."
Throughout his career, Johansson has proven, albeit sporadically, that he is capable of more confident play. To display that style more consistently, he admits that he will have to reprogram his on-ice mindset.
"Naturally, it comes that I try to find another guy," said Johansson, who will start the season playing on the second line with rookie center Andre Burakovsky and right wing Troy Brouwer. "The game is so quick right now, it's a shoot-first league and you have to take that into your game.
"It's something I'm excited about. It's not bad to score more goals."
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