We’d like to wish a BIG Happy Birthday to our favorite little guy Tyler Johnson as he turns 26!
His story has been told over and over as it is the most popular topic for any national media member to talk about whenever they think it’s relevant. But what the heck. We’ll just repeat it for the million and first time for every one.
Johnson was an undersized, but highly skilled center growing up in Spokane, Washington. As he approached Juniors age, he was drafted by his hometown WHL team, the Spokane Chiefs in the 11th round in 2005. Prior to the 2007-08 season, Johnson went to camp with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL in order to preserve his NCAA eligibility. However, he had recently had mono and was still recovering from the fatigue that lingers even after the initial illness. The coaches based their evaluation of him on his performance at camp and not on his history and ultimately cut him.
With his options limited, the Spokane Chiefs convinced him to join the team for the 2007-08 season. He began his tenure with the Chiefs on the fourth line in a shutdown role. He learned to play defense and on the penalty kill and still managed to score 35 points in 69 games with a plus-17 plus-minus rating on a very good Chiefs team. In fact, the Chiefs won the WHL Championship and the Memorial Cup.
After his rookie season, with the Chiefs, Johnson was eligible for the NHL entry draft in 2008 and was not selected. In 2008-09, Johnson put up 61 points in 62 games and again went undrafted. In 2009-10, Johnson put up 71 points in 64 games and once again went undrafted. After each draft, Johnson attended development camps with the Wild twice and once with the Coyotoes and never earned a contract from either team.
In 2010-11 though, Johnson put up 115 points in 71 games. This time, a free agent, he could choose to sign wherever he wanted and in the latter half of the year he was being courted by multiple NHL teams. Ultimately, it was Steve Yzerman that won the battle and convinced Johnson to come to the Lightning.
He began his career with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL where he put up 68 points in 75 games in his first professional season. He also had 14 points in 14 playoff games. That Norfolk Admirals team not only won the Calder Cup as AHL Champions, but also set a professional hockey record for most consecutive wins. Johnson built a reputation as a hard working two-way center with offensive skills.
The following year, during the NHL lockout, the Lightning’s AHL affiliation moved to the Syracuse Crunch. Towards the end of the season, with Vincent Lecavalier out with an injury, the Lightning would recall Johnson to make his NHL debut. He would put up 6 points in 14 games for the Lightning before returning to Syracuse to finish the season and the playoffs in the AHL. For Syracuse he had 65 points in 62 games and 21 points in 18 playoff games as the Crunch reached the AHL Finals but failed to win the championship.
The following season, Johnson made the Lightning full time out of training camp playing on a third line with his Crunch pals Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik. Not long in to the season though, the line up was shaken up when Steven Stamkos broke his leg. Johnson and Palat would see themselves teamed up with Martin St. Louis and the trio would take off. When St. Louis was traded and Steven Stamkos came back, Johnson moved to the right wing so Stamkos could play the center position on their line.
In his NHL career, Johnson has scored at a 0.69 point per game pace. His production took a hit in 2015-16 after a 72 point season in 2014-15 due to a series of injuries. He had broken his wrist during the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals and was not fully recovered to start the next season. He also suffered several lower body injuries that had him in and out of the line up through the first half of the year. That combined with struggles on the powerplay and an inability to build chemistry led to Johnson only putting up 38 points in 69 games.
However, when Johnson has really shone is the playoffs. Over the past two seasons, he’s had 23 points in 26 games and 17 points in 17 games. There’s something about the playoffs that brings out the best in Johnson as he provided clutch offense in game after game including the Lightning’s first ever playoff hat trick.
Johnson is a special player and the Lightning and it’s fans are lucky that he chose to join the organization.