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Tampa Bay Lightning sees good fit in Tyler Johnson

BRANDON — Tyler Johnson carries some pretty impressive statistics.

His 53 goals last season for Spokane led the junior Western Hockey League. His 115 points were second by one in the WHL and second among all players in the three leagues that make up the junior Canadian Hockey League.

"As good a player as there was in junior hockey last year," said Al Murray, the Lightning's director of amateur scouting.

So why wasn't he drafted?

"Five-foot-8, 5-9, whatever it is," Murray said.

But that did not stop Tampa Bay in March from signing Johnson, 20, to a free agent contract.

The expectation is the center, listed at 5-9, 175 pounds, will play next season for AHL Norfolk. For now, he's one of the more intriguing players at the Lightning's development camp at the Ice Sports Forum.

"You've got to recognize his strengths and see if it fits a role for your team," Murray said. "For us, he fits. (GM Steve Yzerman) wants quick, competitive people who have skill. This is him."

Johnson, part of the United States' 2010 gold medal-winning junior national team, has more to his game than superior skating and soft hands. Positionally sound and good defensively, he can play any situation, Murray said. And his ability to win faceoffs made him invaluable on Spokane's power play and penalty kill.

Johnson was not always a points producer. He had 13 goals and 35 points in 2007-08, his first season with Spokane. But his goal and points totals went up in his next three seasons.

"My first year in Spokane, I was strictly a defensive guy in a shutdown role," Johnson said. "As time went on, I was relied on more for offense, so it's something I just acquired. I'm trying to be a two-way forward and play at both ends of the rink."

"He's a good skater and very competitive," Murray said. "Not like, 'I'm going to knock you over and run through you,' but, 'I'm going to beat you to pucks, chip pucks off your stick, beat you on the transition.' He doesn't have to battle. He just beats you."

Three-on-three: Three-man teams played half-ice games with four-minute periods that were "just fun" for players but provided clues, Yzerman said.

"In three-on-three, you're touching the puck a lot. It's a lot of skill," he said. "We see them handle the puck, shoot the puck, make little plays in tight."

It also was quite a workout.

"After a minute of that, you are out of gas," Yzerman said. "That's why we do it half-ice."

Searching: D Teigan Zahn became a free agent July 1 because the Lightning did not make the 2010 draftee a bona fide offer. Zahn is at camp anyway. He also might skate at the Islanders camp, though that still is up in the air. Zahn, 21, said it would be "different" skating for two teams, but "I just want to prove myself to someone and get that foot in the door."

Sardines: What happened Sunday, when 12 players wedged themselves into an elevator at the team hotel? The elevator got stuck between the first and second floors.

"Some guys were getting a little worried, but some guys were laughing," C Alex Killorn said.

The problem resolved itself after several minutes, he said. But that was plenty of time for embarrassment as people in the lobby watched the players through the elevator's glass wall.

"Everybody was laughing at us," Killorn said.

Odds and ends: Vladislav Namestnikov, Tampa Bay's 2011 first-round draft pick, 27th overall, beat G Jaroslav Janus on a penalty shot with a forehand after a slick deke from his backhand. "I do that a lot," Namestnikov said. … As far as he knows, C Matthew Peca said, he is not related to former NHL star Mike Peca.

Around the league

Czech pioneer dies: Jaroslav Jirik, the first Czech allowed to play in the NHL during Czechoslovakia's communist era, died in a plane crash. He was 71. Jirik was piloting an ultralight one-seater that crashed shortly after takeoff from the airport in Brno, about 125 miles from Prague, and caught fire, police said. Jan Brskovsky, president of the Light Aircraft Association of the Czech Republic, said the accident's cause was not known. Jirik, a right wing, was cleared to play in the NHL by Czech authorities. He played three games for the Blues in 1969-70. He spent most of the season in the minors with the Kansas City Blues.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

.FAST FACTS

Lightning development camp

When/where: Ends today; Ice Sports Forum, Brandon

Schedule: 10:30 a.m.,

three-on-three tournament.

Session is free and open to the public.

Tampa Bay Lightning sees good fit in Tyler Johnson 07/11/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 11, 2011 9:30pm]
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