Is there a better story being written in the NHL this season than the one being penned by F Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning?
A native of Spokane, Johnson played four seasons with the WHL’s Chiefs, who selected him in the 11th round of the 2005 bantam draft.
He was a terrific WHL player, too, putting up 282 points, including 128 goals, in 266 regular-season games.
In 2010-11, as a 20-year-old, he finished second in the scoring race, his 115 points leaving him one point behind F Linden Vey of the Medicine Hat Tigers. Johnson led the WHL in goals that season, with 53.
I can remember watching Johnson in his final WHL season and thinking he was as good a centre as I had seen in quite some time. On top of his offensive ability, he was lights out on defence and practically unbeatable in the faceoff circle. He also may have been the WHL’s best penalty-killer at the time.
Tim Speltz, the Chiefs’ general manager, has watched Johnson for a long time.
“Johnny has always exceeded expectations and he’s a great person who was always an excellent skater and had an amazing understanding of the game,” Speltz told Taking Note via email. “By the end of his 19-year-old year he gave you the feeling he would find a way to play in the NHL. His (20-year-old season), he finished second in league scoring and he was always our most responsible defensive player.”
Johnson, now 24, wasn’t selected in the NHL draft — at 5-foot-9, he is one of those players who has had to live with being too small. But he was able to sign a free-agent deal with the Lightning.
Al Murray, Tampa Bay’s head amateur scout, lives in Regina so had ample opportunity to watch Johnson during his WHL career. It was on Murray’s recommendation that the Lightning signed Johnson.
He played two seasons in the AHL and now is in his second full NHL season.
He got his first taste of the NHL in 2012-13 when he had three goals and three assists in 16 games.
Last season, he played 82 games with the Lightning and showed a hint of what he was about when he put up 50 points, including 24 goals.
Still, who saw this season coming?
He leads the Lightning in points, with 45, 17 of them goals, in 42 games. On Sunday, he was named to the NHL all-star game.
Unfortunately, he left in the second period of Monday’s 7-3 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia with an undisclosed injury. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper didn’t know whether Johnson would be able to play tonight against the host Boston Bruins.
Before leaving the game, Johnson set up Tampa Bay sniper Steven Stamkos for a goal with as nifty a pass as you will see.
Johnson first skated at the age of 18 months.
His mother, Debbie, taught power-skating; his father, Ken, coached minor hockey for a long time. Yes, he coached Tyler during his minor hockey career.
Don’t think for a minute that just because Johnson now is 2,316 miles from Spokane, as the crow flies, that the Chiefs’ followers have forgotten him.
“There are lots of Johnson jerseys in our crowd, both Chiefs and Lightning,” Speltz noted. “Spokane is very proud of their hometown hockey hero.
“All that said, who Tyler is is what makes him special . . . a great young man who is a fantastic role model you cannot say enough about.”
The Portland Winterhawks meet the Blazers in Kamloops on Wednesday night and then are in Prince George to face the Cougars on Friday and Saturday. This is the Winterhawks’ last regular-season trip outside the U.S. Division. . . . Portland F Chase De Leo goes into Kamloops on a 17-game point streak. He has two goals and 18 assists in the 17 games. . . . F Oliver Bjorkstrand, who is tied with Petan for the team scoring lead, with 48 points, has seven points, three of them goals, over his last two games. He has points in 15 of his last 16 games, with multiple points in 12 of those contests. . . . F Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice has 282 career regular-season points. That leaves him four points behind F Jarret Stoll, who holds the franchise record (286). . . . The Ice next plays Wednesday in Moose Jaw.
Happy 61st to Dennis Sobchuk who was never same after a shoulder injury. Dennis scored 191 in 200 games w/ . pic.twitter.com/m94qafgHRv
— O-Pee-Chee Stars (@opeecheestars)