Blackhawks Should Benefit From Tyler Johnson’s Return to Lineup

The Chicago Blackhawks have been in a downward spiral since their miraculous 4-2-0 start. They’ve lost 12 of their last 13 games with few bright spots. However, the team got a boost this past week when Tyler Johnson returned to the lineup for Tuesday’s (Dec. 13) 7-3 loss to the Washington Capitals after missing seven weeks with an ankle injury. For a struggling Blackhawks club, this is a positive.

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Johnson’s Chicago tenure has been limited due to multiple injuries, but he exceeded expectations during the club’s first handful of games and scored in his return on Tuesday. With seven points (three goals, four assists) through seven games, some regression might come for the 32-year-old forward, but he should nonetheless help the team.

Johnson Provides a Veteran Presence & Much-Needed Leadership

The Blackhawks aren’t a young group, per se; most of this season’s roster will likely be gone in, say, the next three seasons. Even if it’s just short-term, however, the team can feed off Johnson’s experience. It’s possible his best days with the Tampa Bay Lightning are behind him, but he brings many intangibles as a two-time Stanley Cup champion with a pretty good attitude.

Amid the Blackhawks’ rough stretch, having Johnson matters. He’s someone the club can look up to, especially their younger players. As optimistic as Jonathan Toews has stayed throughout the rebuild, there’s only so much he can do to help at this point; after Tuesday’s loss, he said there are many areas of Chicago’s game that need improvement (from ‘Jonathan Toews’ positivity fades to discouragement after Blackhawks’ ugly loss to Capitals,’ Chicago Sun-Times, 12/14/22). This is why a player like Johnson helps, knowing he can guide the team and provide mentorship.

Johnson should take some of the pressure off both Toews and Patrick Kane, even if the results don’t always come. Small things like that are important for the club. Two-thirds of the season is still left, and there will be more tough blows like Tuesday’s loss.

Johnson Improves the Blackhawks’ Forward Group

The Blackhawks went 3-13-4 during Johnson’s absence. There were many reasons for their regression, from slow starts to a lack of offense, but the team clearly missed him. He was scoring at a point-per-game pace before his injury, which is probably unsustainable; however, he should bolster the Blackhawks’ forward group beyond just his scoring.

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Johnson brings good versatility when healthy. He has a decent two-way presence and might be one of the closest things Chicago has to a solid defensive forward. He can play up and down the lineup, too; while he skated on the team’s third line alongside Jujhar Khaira and Jason Dickinson against the Capitals, he is also capable of holding down a top-six spot if the team needed him.

Along with his skill set, Johnson should also provide a modest boost to the Blackhawks’ power play. Before his injury, three of his first six points came on the power play, and he skated on the team’s top unit during Wednesday’s practice. Even with a struggling offense, Chicago’s power play has been decent, with a 23.8% success rate, but having Johnson should be a boost.

It’s a near certainty Johnson won’t be part of the Blackhawks’ future, but regardless of whether he sustains his recent success, he’ll remain a useful piece.

For Johnson, These Next Few Months are Pivotal

Unlike Toews, Kane, and some of the team’s veterans who are set to hit free agency this offseason, Johnson’s contract doesn’t expire until 2024. He has one year left at $5 million, and while Chicago could theoretically flip him at the deadline, he could just as easily remain for at least another season.

Tyler Johnson Chicago Blackhawks
Tyler Johnson, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Again, it’s unlikely Johnson continues scoring at this pace. He’s seven seasons removed from his career campaign with the Lightning in 2014-15 when he scored 72 points in 77 games. However, should the team trade Kane and/or Toews at this year’s deadline, it might open the door for Johnson to take on a greater leadership role and maybe even become an alternate captain.

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However, if Johnson maintains at least some semblance of his current performance, the team could indeed move him. The Blackhawks are reportedly aiming for high draft picks in a Max Domi or Andreas Athanasiou trade, but it remains to be seen what they can fetch for one or both players, which could make a Johnson trade more viable (from ‘Blackhawks rebuild: What I’m hearing about Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews trades and more,’ The Athletic, 12/06/22).

It’s a small sample size, but his value is probably the highest it has been during his Chicago tenure. Even if he regresses, better-than-expected numbers could lead to team success while also improving a possible return should he get traded.

Johnson is easy to root for, and fans should hope he continues to thrive. It’s been tough to see him face so much adversity since making his Chicago debut in Oct. 2021, but his success has been encouraging. Even though winning might not be a priority, the team is better off with Johnson around, no matter what his future holds.

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