Lightning's Tyler Johnson builds on his success

For Lightning center Tyler Johnson, his first trip to Europe last month was tough to top.

Johnson, 23, had an impressive showing for Team USA in the World Championship in Belarus, scoring a team-high six goals. That included two in a 13-second flurry at the end of a quarterfinal loss to the Czech Republic.

Then there was his stop in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on his way home, relaxing with teammates on a boat ride through the canals, watching all the cyclists whiz by in the streets, and checking out the infamous red light district.

"You had to go see it — it's touristy." Johnson said. "It's definitely a different world, though. It's crazy."

And when he got back to his hometown of Spokane, Wash., he got to celebrate his new three-year, $10 million contract with Tampa Bay. He signed the contract while in Belarus.

"It was awesome," said Johnson, who was scheduled to be a restricted free agent July 1. "I can't wait for the future in Tampa."

With Team USA, Johnson appeared to pick up where he left off this season, when he scored a franchise rookie-record 24 goals and was named one of three finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy (NHL Rookie of the Year).

Johnson averaged more than 20 minutes a game at worlds on the top line with the Islanders' Brock Nelson and Predators' Craig Smith. Johnson used his speed on the larger ice, believing he gained a lot of confidence while learning a different style.

"I thought decision-making was big, because the ice is so big," Johnson said. "You can't really necessarily play the North American game where you dump and chase and work hard. You have to play a smarter game, a chess match in a way, knowing where to dump the puck."

Johnson roomed with Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader, saying players had fun as the tournament held events and concerts in Minsk. There were some cultural adjustments, as he found out the hard way when the pre-game meal didn't agree with him before facing Russia.

"I was puking through it," Johnson said. "Obviously there's a lot of different food, don't really have the normal pasta and chicken before the game. Some things your body can't adjust to."

In that game, Johnson went head-to-head with touted Lightning goalie prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy, and was impressed with how the 19-year-old shut them down, stopping 37 of 38 shots in a 6-1 Russia win.

"He plays extremely well," Johnson said. "He had some really big saves. For a young goalie he was very calm and collected in the net, and had a great tournament. It was funny, after the game we came up to each other and he said, 'See you in Tampa.' I didn't even know he knew English."

The tournament ended earlier than Johnson hoped, though the U.S. team nearly erased a three-goal deficit in losing 4-3 to the Czechs. Johnson's two quick goals came with the extra attacker. "That was pretty cool, pretty lucky," Johnson said.

After they were eliminated, Johnson said he and a handful of teammates stopped in Amsterdam on their way back, an experience that whetted his appetite for future overseas travels. Not this summer, though, as his main trip will be going to Las Vegas June 24 as he and fellow Lightning rookie Ondrej Palat are up for the Calder Trophy.

"It has been a great year," Johnson said. "No doubt."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com.

Lightning's Tyler Johnson builds on his success 06/03/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 10:35pm]

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