Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tyler Johnson emerges on Lightning 'Kid Line'

Lightning rookie Tyler Johnson said he doesn't keep track of all the breakaways on which he has failed this season.

But a couple stick in his mind, such as the one against the Oilers on Nov. 7 on which he hit a post. Oh, and the one against the Devils on Oct. 29, when Johnson beat future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur but hit a post as well.

"That would have been cool to score against him," Johnson said.

That's it, though, he said, "just those ones."

It is one of the few blips for Johnson in a season in which he has emerged as a productive and consistent third-line center, quite a return for Tampa Bay, which signed the Spokane, Wash., native in March 2011 as an undrafted free agent.

Johnson's 11 points in 23 games, on five goals and six assists, entered Saturday tied for eighth in the league among rookies. His 49.2 faceoff winning percentage was third among rookie forwards with at least 100 draws, and his 53 shots are tied for second on the team.

He is a regular on the power play and penalty kill.

"He's a 200-foot player," coach Jon Cooper said, using the length of an NHL rink as a reference point.

Johnson was the AHL's most valuable player last season, with 37 goals and 65 points in 62 games for Syracuse. He also played 14 games with the Lightning, with three goals and six points.

Johnson impressed with his maturity and how "he scoots around the ice," Tampa Bay teammate Nate Thompson said, and that at 5 feet 9, 182 pounds, "he's not shy about throwing his body around."

"I'm learning every day," said Johnson, who centers the Kid Line that includes his former Syracuse teammates Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik. "Up here, the hockey intelligence is off the charts compared to other leagues. I'm just trying to learn that. That's the big thing."

Part of that is figuring out how to finish off breakaways. Johnson had two in the third period of Friday's 1-0 overtime loss to the Ducks but was stopped both times by goalie Jonas Hiller.

"It's tough to say you don't get frustrated," Johnson said. "But at the same time, I realize I'm getting those chances. As long as you keep working hard, they're bound to go in at some point."

It's confidence, Cooper said: "You're a little apprehensive in this league just because of the speed. I think sometimes he thinks he's going to get caught when he's not. Eventually it's going to come for him."

In the meantime, Johnson just wants to stay consistent. Before Friday, he had a goal and three assists in a four-game points streak. He is minus-1 for the season but plus-2 in his past 12 games.

He understands that in a league in which many players are bigger and stronger, "me going toe-to-toe with someone is not my ideal situation. So, I'm trying to play smarter, just trying to be in the right position."

As for those failed breakaways, "You just try to think of what I could have done better," Johnson said. "Some of them haunt you at night."

Like that one against Brodeur.

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