We have seen it since his call up in March of 2013; Tyler Johnson has emerged as one of the top young players in the National Hockey League. After going undrafted, fighting his way through the American Hockey League, and earning a full-time spot on the Lightning’s NHL roster, Johnson has blossomed into a fabulous two-way center that is part of the organizations young core.
Johnson has played many roles with the Lightning throughout his time in the NHL, from a checking line center to a top line scoring threat. In his first two full seasons with the team, Johnson played 82 and 77 games, including 30 postseason games, with many of those games being played with a fractured wrist sustained at some point during the 2014-15 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Entering the 2015-16 NHL regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning, fresh off their heartbreaking Stanley Cup Finals defeat at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, had high expectations as one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference to return to the finals and once again compete for the leagues crown jewel, the Stanley Cup. The organization brought back a majority of the roster that led the Lightning to the finals, with players like Johnson, Steven Stamkos, and Ben Bishop looking to lead the charge.
Unfortunately, after a decent start, the injury bug took a heavy toll on the Lightning roster. At one time, eight of the team’s forwards were out of the lineup, including Johnson, who sustained many nagging injuries to his lower and upper body at different points during the season.
The 25-year-old Spokane, Washington native finally returned to the ice back on December 28th against the Montreal Canadiens, but struggled to find the game that made him one of the most feared young scorers in the NHL. He lacked that extra gear of speed that made him a pain for opposing defenders to stay in front of. To go with that, his passing and decision-making were just a bit off, two of the things that make him such a great line mate.
Recently, Johnson has found his game. He once again has the elite speed, decision-making, and passing ability that makes him so good. It also seems like his play against the boards has once again flourished, as the lower body strength he possesses allows him to somehow skate out with the puck against much larger defenders.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are on fire right now, and so is Johnson. The undrafted free agent is once again contributing in every facet of the game for his team; scoring, defending, winning face-offs, etc. Though it has been a tough year thus far, with 20 points in 38 games and a team that is rolling, Johnson can now focus on the second half of the year and help his team get back to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Kyle Barber began his journalistic career covering the Tampa Bay Lightning when he was just 14 years old. Now, at the age of 18, he continues to cover the Tampa Bay Lightning while pursuing his life long dream of becoming an NHL General Manager.