- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Marcus Johansson hardly came out of nowhere as a first-round pick by the Capitals. But he was a revelation as a rookie and will be counted on for more in the near future.

And given the success he and Nicklas Backstrom have enjoyed in Washington, it’s no surprise that the team would go back to the well and sign a Swedish prospect. The Caps did just that, confirming Tuesday they inked forward Mattias Sjogren to a two-year deal.

“He is a big center who has developed very well over the past few seasons and is ready for a new challenge,” general manager George McPhee said.

The 6-foot-1, 201-pound Sjogren, 23, is considered an aggressive, physical player who also has a bit of a scoring touch. He had seven goals and 17 assists in 51 games for Farjestad of the Swedish Elite League last season and recorded four points for Sweden en route to a silver medal at the IIHF World Hockey Championships last month.

The signing was first reported by two Swedish newspapers, which said the deal was worth the maximum for NHL rookies — $1.8 million. At that price, Sjogren would seem to be NHL-ready for next season.

McPhee discussed the Caps’ depth of youth and prospects.

“We have some really terrific young players that I’m thinking hard about introducing for next year,” he said. Sjogren may now be on that list.

Sjogren’s agent, former NHL forward Claude Lemieux, told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet there’s no specific “plan” but that “[the Caps] think he can play in the NHL. But he must earn the spot.”

Kuznetsov staying in Russia: The Caps’ top prospect won’t be trying to earn a spot in the opening-night lineup this fall as Evgeny Kuznetsov will remain in Russia for another season. The Russian news agency Sovietsky Sport first reported that Kuznetsov signed a one-year deal to remain with Traktor of the Kontinental Hockey League.

According to a Caps spokesman, the decision did not come as a surprise.

“Kuznetsov informed us during our draft interviews that he would need two seasons of development before he’d be ready for the NHL, which was fine with us then and remains so today,” spokesman Sergey Kocharov wrote in an email. “In addition, he underwent a successful shoulder surgery in April so he won’t be attending our rookie camp in July.”

Kuznetsov was the Caps’ first-round draft pick last season (26th overall) and finished last KHL season with 17 goals and 15 assists.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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