Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning’s Tyler Johnson ‘nearly became a nurse anesthetist’

Tyler Johnson nearly became a nurse anesthetist.

But a phone call from Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman in 2011 changed everything for the diminutive forward, Johnson writes in a first-person story published today in The Players' Tribune.

"I went from thinking about scrubs to NHL jerseys," Johnson writes.

Frustrated with his progress as his fourth season with the WHL's Spokane Chiefs was winding down in 2010-11, Johnson feared it was time to close the curtains on his NHL dream. He figured he would play college hockey in Canada instead while studying  anesthesiology.

Then, lightning struck.

Halfway through the season, his game suddenly took off.

Johnson was preparing for a playoff game in Prince George, British Columbia, when his agent called and told him he was going to receive a call from an NHL GM.

Johnson "almost passed out" when Lightning GM Steve Yzerman phoned.

Johnson's schedule at the time didn't allow for a trip to Tampa, so Yzerman offered to travel to Prince George, about nine hours north of Vancouver.

"Steve Yzerman — one of the greatest players in NHL history — was offering to come to the middle of British Columbia to meet with me?" Johnson writes.

Johnson eventually  received offers from 14 teams, but Yzerman's call sold him on the Lightning.

"It doesn't matter where you come from or where you were drafted," he remembers being told. "If you prove your worth, you're going to get a chance."

Even before the call, the 5-foot-8 Johnson was drawn to the Lightning because the franchise once took a chance on similarly sized Marty St. Louis  — and Johnson noticed how St. Louis was revered in Tampa Bay.

"Come to a Bolts game and look around Amalie Arena," Johnson writes. "Whose jersey do you see the most? Stammer? Kuch? Vasy? Nope. It's number 26, Martin St. Louis."

Johnson didn't watch a lot of hockey growing up. He got to know St. Louis by playing as him on the NHL 06 video game.

"He was so good in NHL 06 it was ridiculous: fast, great dangles, a wicked wrister," Johnson writes. "My go-to move was to hang around the blue line when we were in our own zone then grab the puck and take off with Marty. Breakaway every time. Goal every time."

In 2013, Johnson played a few shifts with St. Louis while making his NHL debut.

"Right away, I could see why everybody in Tampa Bay loved him," Johnson writes. "He left it all out on the ice and never stopped skating. He would do anything to win."

All St. Louis needed was an opportunity, something Yzerman offered Johnson.

"You come down here, you put on a Lighting sweater, and we'll give you a chance," Johnson writes. "You just need to take it."

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